A play centering on a young, bright American couple living in a raffish section of Paris sounds like a night of romance and fun, but playwright Amy Herzog’s look at her protags’ deceptive lives turns dark and disturbing. Noirish elements may not make the play a candidate for feel-good seasons, but scribe’s picking apart of this misguided match — enhanced by stellar central perfs in the world preem at New Haven’s Yale Repertory Theater — make it a tempting choice for more sophisticated venues. Still, work needs to be done to clarify characters, flesh out backstory and close some end-of-play plot holes before work is Gotham-ready.
Sure, central couple Abby Zack (Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller, both terrific) have their problems when we meet them in their apartment in this less-than-fantasy-perfect section of Paris. But their marriage sounds pretty good on the surface: He works on pediatric AIDS research, she’s a yoga instructor, and they both are reasonably affectionate, bright and funny.
But there are signs all is not well. She discovers him home unexpectedly masturbating to disturbing porn; she seems a little too attached to her cell phone lifeline to the States. She’s off her anti-anxiety and anti-depressant meds and appears to be a high maintenance spouse; he’s off on a pot high with his young Senegalese landlord Alioune (Gilbert Owuor), who upsets Zack’s tenuous equilibrium by announcing he wants the four months of rent they owe — now.
Their expatriate escape is soon revealed to be based on some faulty premises. As the play progresses the marriage becomes more and more troubled as self-abuse, self-centeredness and self-indulgence compete for destructive honors.
Placed in contrast to the Americans’ relationship is the stable marriage of Alioune and his young wife Amina (Pascale Armand). Theirs is not one of heightened living in pursuit of an unattainable “happiness” but one of responsibility, stability and reality, a point well-taken at play’s end.
Even so, the play becomes unmoored as the tone shifts and more than a few details fail to add up. Auds may wonder if Herzog (“4,000 Miles,” “After the Revolution”) is after more of a geopolitical statement as well.
Anne Kauffman helms judiciously, allowing her lead actors to create their own inter-personal dynamic — and it’s a sizzler, full of delicious details and bold choices. Dizzia in particular is a wonder as she rides Abby’s emotional roller coaster. Keller earns aud’s sympathy at first with his charm and patience before showing other colors as well. It’s a head trip for all involved. Owuor and Armand give perfectly measured perfs as the couple who understand the Americans better than they know themselves.
Production values are top notch, including Julia C. Lee’s funky apartment setting, Nina Nyun Seung Lee’s Parisian light and Robert Kaplowitz’s effective sound.