Slow and surprisingly weak. Set does not resemble rent controlled West Village apartment in any way. Two main characters each off. Weinstein’s manic energy does significant damage to tone. Loads more humor in text than what we see here unfortunately. Stereotypical dead silent Portland audience does not help much. Inauthentic.
“Just one false move, babe, and suddenly everything’s ruined.”
-Fountains of Wayne
BELLEVILLE by Amy Herzog at Third Rail Rep
What happens when everyone else melts away and it’s you and your partner left alone? Perhaps you’re eating a meal at home, or maybe you’re driving somewhere. Things are going along ok, and then out of nowhere there’s a lapse of attention, one ill-chosen word or glance, and suddenly you realize you don’t know this other person at all. There’s not much company to share this revelation with: after all, it’s just the two of you now.
Such a moment kicks off Amy Herzog’s dark, sharply uncomfortable play BELLEVILLE, which opened last night at Third Rail in a somewhat mixed production. In Herzog’s story, American Abby (Rebecca Lingafelter) has just returned to her Paris apartment mid day. She discovers her husband Zack (Isaac Lamb) in their bedroom watching porn. Zach’s supposed to be at work.
From one unexpected and unrecoverable discovery, we watch over an intermissionless 100 minutes as this young expat couple’s marriage moves from rocky to the stuff of horror films.
Abby and Zack moved to Paris for Zack’s job at Doctors Without Borders. Abby has not yet detached from her own original family back in the US completely and still talks to her father daily for support. Stateside, her sister is just about to have a baby, and Abby wanted to be there but something went wrong with their visas (thanks to Zack). The young American woman doesn’t speak much French – she stopped going to her lessons because the teacher made fun of her. Zack has a college kid’s weed habit and has found a stoner buddy in his North African landlord. Though they are both in Paris physically, Abby and Zack aren’t very engaged with the surroundings. As we’ll learn, they’re too caught up in their own problems to have much chance of engaging with a foreign culture.
Herzog is a tough and exacting writer, and she finds a lot of beats that ring true in this couple’s deformed relationship. Abby, not quite willing to believe her marriage may be in trouble, flips in an instant from fighting to considering the plan for the evening: where are they going for date night? Faced with his cratering life, Zack focuses on (what else) finding the next joint to smoke.
This version of young Americans foundering abroad is significantly hampered by casting two actors who are quite a bit older than the 20-somethings of the script. Lingafelter must be at least a decade older than the 28 Abby is supposed to be, and though she does some strong acting to portray the younger woman, there’s often confusion here as we watch what sounds like a younger person’s drama but looks like a middle-aged one.
The show starts off playing up the comedy of the initial surprise at home, which feels awkward and doesn’t set the right tone. At any minute you can picture the two leads breaking decisively into the humor they are known for (particularly Lamb), but that’s not this play. Going genuinely dark seems to be a harder task for the two.
It’s good to see Herzog searching for new subjects, even if the world she creates isn’t a whole lot of fun for the audience to be around. She’s after a larger point here about America and the world.
In an era when Marxism sounds like a museum piece, it takes some work to tune in here. Duffy Epstein is terrifically good. At last, the intolerable 3 year long absence of John Steinkamp from Portland stages comes to an end. Brilliant closing monologue. Key Jewish social context inadequately conveyed.
And yes, the first Amy Herzog production to ever hit Portland got started last night at Portland Playhouse.
All photos by Brud Giles.
If you’re a fan of the contemporary American theatre, one new voice has been conspicuously absent on Portland stages the last few seasons: New York writer Amy Herzog.
But all that’s about to change. This leading young American playwright will soon arrive in force, with three of her four plays going up in the next year around town.
Portland audiences are going to love Herzog.
4.30.2014 – 6.1.2014 Portland Playhouse – AFTER THE REVOLUTION (2010 Williamstown Theatre Festival)
4.2015 Third Rail – BELLEVILLE (2011 Yale Rep)
4.28.2015 – 5.24.2015 Artists Rep – 4000 MILES (2011 Lincoln Center)
Into the darkness. There are moments when this tale of 20-something newly wed Americans adrift in Paris feels authentic. Play hinges on Zack, but Greg Keller’s quirky, stoned college guy portrayal doesn’t begin to excavate what must be in there if violent denouement is to make sense. Drama without motivations.
One of New York’s most exciting shows this season is sure to be BELLEVILLE by Amy Herzog at New York Theatre Workshop. Previews start February 12.
If you’re headed that way – don’t delay. Tickets go on sale next Tuesday, January 8.
Of the many contemporary American playwrights Portland audiences have been exposed to in recent years, one has been notably absent: Amy Herzog.