×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Legit Review: Mysteries Inhabit ‘Belleville’

Scribe Amy Herzog subverts American-in-Paris dreams in Off Broadway play.

Christmas is always a good time to go crazy, even for a young expat couple living the sweet life in Paris.  The unnerving play “Belleville,” from white-hot legit scribe Amy Herzog, is a daring repudiation of all those romantic fabrications about the liberating experience of living abroad. Married Americans Abby and Zack could pass for the perfect couple in this slow-burning psychological study, right up to the moment when their marriage starts to crack — and possibly their minds along with it.

Anne Kauffman directs this rather mysterious play with perfect control over its subtle and quite alarming mood shifts. Abby and Zack, who are played for serious stakes by Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller, seem a bit neurotic when we first meet them. But hey, they could just be exhausted from living the dream of young and educated Americans abroad.

Set designer Julia C. Lee has installed them in a generically boho flat in the studiously hip Parisian quarter of Belleville. (“There’s a lot of life here,” Abby observes of their ethnically diverse neighborhood.) That translates into cheap, mismatched furniture, exposed pipe radiators, and a beaded curtain separating kitchen from living room.

At 28, Abby and Zach seem too old for the hippie persona. She’s obviously wasting time as a yoga instructor, and she knows it. “I’m such a downer,” she tells Alioune, the Senegalese landlord (Phillip James Brannon), who occasionally drops by with his wife (Pascale Armand) to visit. “I just don’t have enough to do.”

But Zach is a doctor doing important research to save babies from contracting the AIDS virus. Or so Abby thinks, until she catches him alone, watching porn in the middle of the day.

Once Herzog starts drawing the curtains back on this cozy love nest, more disturbing revelations come thick and fast. Abby is more than bored; she’s severely depressed and off her meds. In addition to his spotty professional history, Zack is a serious pot-head, to the point of breaking into his landlord’s flat looking for weed. And then there’s the little matter of the rent.

Under Kauffman’s helming, both Dizzia (“In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play”) and Keller do such natural and understated work that it takes a while to comprehend the extent of their characters’ alienation — from their country, their families, their neighbors and, most of all, from each other.  But by the time one of them warns the other not to play with knives while drunk, it’s pretty clear that Herzog has carried off something of a coup in the theatrical annals of abnormal psychology.

Belleville

(New York Theater Workshop; 199 seats; $70 top) 

A New York Theater Workshop presentation, in association with Yale Repertory Theater, of a play in one act by Amy Herzog.  Directed by Anne Kauffman.

Set, Julia C. Lee; costumes, Mark Nagle; lighting, Ben Stanton; original music & sound design; fight director, Jeff Barry; dialect coach, Deborah Hecht; production stage manager, Terri K. Kohler. Opened March 3, 2013. Reviewed Feb. 28. Running time: ONE HOUR, 35 MIN.

Amina –  Pascale Armand

Alioune – Phillip James Brannon

Abby – Maria Dizzia

Zack – Greg Keller

Popular on Variety

Legit Review: Mysteries Inhabit 'Belleville'

More Legit

  • Ben McKenzie

    'Gotham' Star Ben McKenzie to Make Broadway Debut in 'Grand Horizons'

    “Gotham” star Ben McKenzie will make his Broadway debut in Bess Wohl’s “Grand Horizons.” He joins a cast that includes Oscar nominees Jane Alexander (“Kramer vs. Kramer,” “The Great White Hope”) and James Cromwell (“Babe,” “L.A. Confidential”). The show has a strictly limited 10-week run and begins previews on Dec. 23, 2019, before officially opening [...]

  • The Great Society review

    Listen: Brian Cox on 'Succession,' Shakespeare, and the Crisis We're In

    Brian Cox is having a pop-culture moment with “Succession,” the buzzy HBO series in which he stars. But he’s also an accomplished theater actor with plenty of experience doing Shakespeare — and it serves him well in both “Succession” and in his current Broadway show, “The Great Society.” Listen to this week’s podcast below: Cox [...]

  • Scooby Doo Ella Louise Allaire Martin

    Scooby-Doo Live Theater Tour Is Goofy Dane's Latest Adventure

    From its 1969 start as a Saturday morning kids mystery cartoon series “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” starring its titular, talking Great Dane and his four teenaged friends, has made adventure its staple. Once Hanna-Barbera’s successor, Warner Bros. Animation, took the leash, Scooby and company became a comic book, a board game, a series of video [...]

  • Tootsie Santino Fontana

    'Tootsie' Ending Broadway Run in January

    “Tootsie,” the critically acclaimed musical adaptation of the 1982 classic film comedy, will play its final Broadway performance on Jan. 5, 2020. When it wraps up its run, the show will have logged 293 regular and 25 preview performances at the cavernous Marquis Theatre, where it sometimes labored to draw big crowds. Last week, “Tootsie” [...]

  • Laurel Griggs

    Laurel Griggs, Broadway and 'SNL' Actress, Dies at 13

    Laurel Griggs, who starred in Broadway’s “ONCE the Musical” as Ivanka, has died. She was 13. An obituary posted to Dignity Memorial indicates she died on Nov. 5, and Griggs’ grandfather wrote on Facebook that her death was due to a massive asthma attack. Griggs made her Broadway debut when she was six years old [...]

  • West End celling collapse

    Ceiling Collapse at 'Death of a Salesman' Leads to Theater Closure, Boycott Threats

    The West End revival of “Death of a Salesman” has moved into a temporary space after parts of the ceiling of Piccadilly Theatre collapsed during a Wednesday night performance. Five audience members sustained minor injuries and were taken to area hospitals. The theater will remain closed for the rest of the week. In the meantime, [...]

  • Tina review

    Broadway Review: 'Tina'

    “Now, that’s what I call a Broadway show!” That’s what the stranger sitting next to me at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater yelled into my ear at the roof-raising finale of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” I’d say he nailed it. Call “Tina” a jukebox musical or a bio-musical or anything you want to call it, but [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content