Where is the joie de vivre?                             

By Roz Friedman

The past few weeks in the theater have been depressing. Each new play (Sweet and Sad, Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling, A Spoonful of Water, We Live Here, A Charity Case) I have attended has been loaded with alcoholism, drug addiction, self-destructive behavior and suicide. The characters in these various works are young, educated, and have their lives ahead of them, but their emotional instability is truly frightening. Belleville by Amy Herzog, an up-and-coming award-winning playwright, follows this same pattern with a twist. Anne Kauffman directs, underscoring the air of mystery and fear that pervades the action.


In a shabby apartment in Belleville, a section of Paris, France, which means beautiful city, we meet a newly-wed American couple. Their relationship is complicated; it appears that the two are there for very different reasons. Abby has always wanted to visit Paris. She is nervous, still grieving for her mother, who has passed away from Cancer, and on pins and needles waiting for her sister in the states to give birth to her first child. She is also obsessed with taking baths. Played by slim, pretty Maria Dizzia, Abby is shocked when she comes home to find her husband, Zach, an endearing Greg Keller, watching porno.


Zach, a doctor, is humoring her. He claims he has taken the afternoon off from his research work with Pediatric AIDS. Abby is immediately suspicious and obviously annoyed with his behavior, yet blames some of it on her flaws. She has gone off her meds, which control her paranoia. Zach seems sympathetic towards her and he invites her to go on a night on the town. Too much alcohol causes Abby to become dreadfully ill and self-damaging.


Meanwhile, their neighbor, whom we learn is Zach's landlord, Alioune, depicted by Gilbert Owuor, secretly smokes pot with Zach. Alioune and his wife, Amina (Pascal Armand) are from Senegal; they speak French and have a baby. The theme becomes clearer when Alioune, who seems like a good friend, angrily demands back rent from Zach, threatening him with immediate eviction.


The specter of death hangs over the stage, as Zach refuses to let Abby have her phone, and confesses to his lies, which cannot be mentioned here. The ending is not well-drawn; questions are not properly answered. We are left deeply despondent with no resolution. The production as a whole seems a bit thrown together. Mark Nagle's costumes are slapdash, particularly for Abby.


Paris is a wonderful city, but you would never know it from seeing Amy Herzog's Belleville, which is used as an ironic title here. It will play at the Yale Rep through November 12.

This review originally aired on WMNR  88.1FM FINE ARTS PUBLIC RADIO


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