Amy Herzog’s ‘Belleville’ Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
BY NAVEEN KUMAR
From the wail of a passing siren to the hiss-and-clack of a radiator, every sound in Amy Herzog’s superb new play Belleville, which opened Off-Broadway Sunday at New York Theatre Workshop, echoes with subtle menace. They underscore a vague yet permeating sense that the young American couple occupying the sparsely furnished Paris apartment on stage doesn’t quite belong there—at least not together.
Abby and Zack met in college and married young. They skipped his graduation from med school and moved to Paris so Zack could take a job at Doctors Without Borders. Abby traded in her hopes of becoming an actor and became a yoga teacher instead. “I can have the trappings of a person I hate and still be a person I like, right?,” she asks no one in particular. When the play opens, it’s clear they’ve been in Belleville for some months—reasonably settled, but not quite comfortable.
An issue with their travel visas prevents them from returning home unless they don’t want to come back again—so, they’re stuck. The isolation of living as foreigners abroad only tightens their already desperate grip on each other. Within minutes of the play’s opening, it’s clear that Abby and Zack’s emotional lives have twisted into a codependent knot too tight for either of them to untie. And there’s a faint uneasiness in the air suggesting they might soon have reason to try.
As Abby and Zack, Maria Dizzia (In the Next Room…) and Greg Keller (Wit) give the sort of rare and remarkable performances that are at once exacting and seemingly effortless. Every moment on stage reveals further proof of their fragile mindsets and increasingly troubling relationship. Each time one of them retreats behind a closed door—to the bathroom for a shower, or the bedroom for a phone call—the tension of their momentary separation feels palpable, even somehow dangerous.
Phillip James Brannon and Pascale Armand are excellent as Alioune and Amina, the couple’s French-Senegalese landlord and his wife. In the opening scene, Alioune and Zack (friends as well as neighbors) hang out and smoke weed, though Alioune has to broach the uncomfortable subject of Zack being more than a little behind in the rent. It’s the first evidence of secrets Zack keeps from his wife, but for whose protection?
This New York production brings together the original cast from the play’s world premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre last season. Under the expertly nimble direction of Anne Kauffman (Detroit), they’ve shaded in every contour of their characters and work together like a well-oiled machine.
At ninety-five engrossing, intermissionless minutes, Herzog's play is tighter and more fully developed than her previous outing this season (The Great God Pan at Playwrights Horizons). A gripping portrait of intimacy on the edge of collapse, Belleville unfolds carefully and subtly—until it suddenly, frantically unravels.
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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)