by David A. Rosenberg
At Yale Rep, Amy Herzog’s “Belleville” is a shocking domestic tragedy about a young couple whose marriage is as dysfunctional as any you might find in the plays of August Strindberg or Eugene O’Neill. Those past masters at the horrors men and women inflict on one another are the literary ancestors of this work about Abby and Zack, living precariously in the Belleville section of Paris.
The very name Belleville, “beautiful city,” belies their tooth and claw situation. When Abby returns home unexpectedly one afternoon, she finds Zack not at work but on the computer watching porn. Things go downhill from there.
She, an aspiring actress who teaches yoga, is obsessed with her family, with the mother who recently died, the father she yearns to see, the sister who’s about to give birth. He, who’s supposedly studying the prevention of AIDS in children, seems to be at sea both personally and professionally.
Mix in drugs, drink, Senegalese landlords, a dangerous-looking kitchen knife and distressing outside noises and you have people who lead lives of not so quiet desperation. As she did in another worthy work, “After the Revolution,” Herzog stresses how the past eventually catches up.
To tell more would be giving away too much. The work creeps up, ending in ambiguity. Superbly acted by Maria Dizzia as Abby, Greg Keller as Zack and Gilbert Owuor and Pascale Armand as the landlords, the intermissionless work grabs the gut.
Anne Kauffman’s direction is another matter. She carries naturalism too far. Perhaps to avoid sensationalism, dialogue is murmured, as if private conversations were taking place. Her similar subtle approach worked better in the 2010 “This Wide Night,” in a smaller off-Broadway theater. She’s as terrific with actors here but a little goosing wouldn’t hurt.