Off-Broadway Theater Review: BELLEVILLE (New York Theatre Workshop)

by Sarah Taylor Ellis on March 5, 2013

in Theater-New York

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CALCULATING, BLUNT, DISTURBING AND INTENSE

The name Amy Herzog seems to be on the tip of every theatergoer’s tongue lately. Hot on the heels of The Great God Pan, 4000 Miles and After the Revolution, New York Theatre Workshop brings us Herzog’s newest play Belleville – a disturbing domestic thriller.

Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema review of NYTW's BELLEVILLE

In a chic bohemian apartment (designed by Julia C. Lee) on the outskirts of Paris, young American couple Zack (Greg Keller) and Abby (Maria Dizzia) lead a seemingly enviable life. Zack works for Doctors Without Borders, and Abby gets by as a yoga instructor while pursuing an acting career. Sure, Zack has a habit of skipping out of work early to smoke a few bowls, and Abby is struggling to get off depression meds after her mother’s death – but after five years of marriage, these two are still young and in love. What could possibly go wrong?

Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema review of NYTW's BELLEVILLE

Naturalism gives way to a heightened psychodrama as Herzog calculatedly peels back the lies between Zack and Abby. The plotline is less substantial than one might expect or desire, but Belleville still satisfies as a dark domestic drama. The central couple is hopelessly entangled: physically and emotionally dependent on their erratic, untrustworthy other half.

Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema review of NYTW's BELLEVILLE

Keller gives a particularly standout performance as the irresponsible husband, whose lies leave him increasingly exposed and vulnerable as the play progresses; his single-minded devotion to his wife precipitates his own downward spiral. Anne Kauffman’s tight direction never lets the steam out of this tense – and sometimes downright uncomfortable – drama, and Robert Kalowitz’s sound design contributes notably to several intense moments.

Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema review of NYTW's BELLEVILLE

Herzog offers a pointed – if somewhat blunt – cultural commentary with the foils of Alioune (Phillip James Brannon) and Amina (Pascale Armand), a younger French couple who already have two children and own a property management business. “When you were little, did your parents intone, over and over, ‘It doesn’t matter what you do when you grow up as long as you’re happy?'” Abby asks Alioune, her responsible French landlord. “I am increasingly convinced that is the worst thing you can say to a child. May I never say that to my children.”

I haven’t fallen into the Amy Herzog hype as have many critics, but Belleville held me captive to its twisted tale for the duration.

Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema review of NYTW's BELLEVILLE

photos by Joan Marcus

Belleville
New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street
scheduled to end on April 14, 2013
for tickets, call (212) 279-4200 or visit Ticket Central

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