World Premiere of “Belleville” at Yale

by Tom Holehan

Amy Herzog, the gifted young playwright of “After the Revolution” and the recent off-Broadway hit “4000 Miles”, unveils her latest work, “Belleville”, as part of the Yale Repertory Theatre’s 2011-12 season. This world premiere in New Haven is a worthy effort by a contemporary playwright very much worth watching.

 

Set in the residential neighborhood in northeastern Paris called Belleville, Herzog’s drama concerns newly married Abby and Zack (a wonderful Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller) who have relocated to the area so that Zack can work in the field of pediatric AIDS. The couple seems to be enjoying the life of bohemian tourists in Paris, but the tensions underneath the marriage are soon in evidence. It occurs early on when Abby, a fledgling yoga teacher and actress, comes home early to find Zach watching online porn. Even though the incident is barely acknowledged, the cracks in their relationship are gradually revealed as we learn that Abby is still haunted by the untimely death of her beloved mother and Zack’s history may or may not be all he claims it to be.

 

Under Anne Kauffman’s graceful direction the actors are given enough time for moments to matter, for a relationship to truly seem real. Herzog’s spot-on dialogue is a huge help here and both Dizzia and Keller have the kind of chemistry that seems totally authentic allowing audiences to be drawn into this tragic story about a relationship at the crossroads. In smaller, but no less effective roles, Gilbert Owuor and Pascale Armand are memorable as the couple’s Muslim landlords. Kauffman also deserves credit for respecting silence on stage and she achieves almost unbearable tension during the play’s final ten minutes of quiet action. The power of these pauses and silences can not be underestimated to the overall success of the play.

 

Technically Yale Rep continues to get high marks. Scenic Designer Julia C. Lee has created a rambling apartment of grime and clutter illuminated by Nina Hyun Seung Lee’s expressive lighting. The naturalistic costuming by Mark Nagle also seems absolutely right.

 

It can be argued that Herzog hasn’t answered several practical questions concerning the specifics of the couple’s finances and the final scene -- spoken quietly in French -- may confuse and frustrate some viewers who prefer less ambiguity. But the play is still a thoroughly compelling story about damaged people that will surprise, haunt and move theatergoers. “Belleville” is a world you should check out.

 

“Belleville” continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven through Saturday, November 12th. For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.

 

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.  His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

 

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