Saturday, October 29, 2011

Theater Review: Belleville -- Yale

Maria Dizzia as Abby and Greg Keller as Zack. Photo: © 2011 Joan Marcus
Odd Tale Might Better Be Titled ‘Bewildering Ville’
By Lauren Yarger
Doctor Without Borders Zack (Greg Keller) and his yoga instructor/actress wife Abby (Maria Dizzia) seem like a typical, cozy American couple living in their Paris apartment, but theatergoers who really want any part of typical or cozy won’t find it in this world premiere of Belleville, by Amy Herzog, commissioned by Yale Rep. 

Herzog (After the Revolution) introduces interesting characters, well played by the talented Keller and Dizzia, but she never really takes them anywhere. The plot -- if it can be called that – is bizarre, always teasing that something sinister, or surprising is about to happen, but failing to deliver. There’s one scene that’s squirm-in-your-seat creepy, if not exactly comprehensible, and it never is fully explained either. All the questions we have about what this couple is really all about or what actually becomes of them are left unanswered. The play’s conclusion even is delivered totally in French by the couple’s Senegal-born landlord, Alioune (Glibert Owuor), and his wife, Amina (Pascale Armand). Even if you understand French, don't expect any resolution. 

Who really is the mysterious pot-smoking, porn-watching doctor and why is he behind in the rent? Why was his wife on antidepressant medication and why is she obsessed with talking to her father on the phone and taking baths? I know just a little but more about the answers than the guy in the audience who snored loudly for an hour and a half of the one-hour-and 45-minute play. “Bewildering,” rather than Belleville, the name of their northern Parisian neighborhood, might be a better title for this one.

Director Anne Kauffman doesn’t help by allowing multiple long gaps between dialogue and action. One stop in the action has the actors offstage for so long that audience members start chatting with each other, wondering whether someone has missed a cue, or whether an actor has lost his way after exiting one of several doors on Julia C. Lee’s nice set. Odd lighting (Nina Hyun Seung Lee, design) raises other questions, at times portending a sinister development (which doesn’t occur) and at other junctures, defining the passage of huge blocks of time in a blink. When we’re left trying to figure out what the plot by watching the lighting, however, something’s wrong with the story.

Belleville, featuring costumes by Mark Nagle and fight direction by Rick Sordelet and Jeff Barry,  runs through Nov. 12 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St. at York Street, New Haven. Tickets range from $20-$88 and are available at, by phone at 203-432-1234 and in person at the Box Office.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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