Second Thought Theatre’s Belleville – Review

STT-FY15-Belleville

Playwright Amy Herzog's Belleville, a gripping look into the impact lies can have on a marriage, is the 2nd production this year from Second Thought Theatre.  Director Lee Trull and a terrific cast bring to life the dark tale for Dallas audiences through June 13.  Click through for my review of this unique love story gone wrong.

In the press notes for STT's production of Belleville Director Lee Trull said, “The first time I read Belleville it deeply troubled me,”.  

Play's Synopsis:

Zack and Abby are a happy-looking young American couple living the dream. They’ve moved to the hip Belleville neighborhood of Paris where Zack works in not-for-profit medicine and Abby teaches yoga. The dream is tested though, by insecurity, dishonesty, and weakness.

Second Thought Theatre always looks to choose challenging plays both for the audiences and I think for themselves as a theatre company.  Tackling Amy Herzog's play doesn't present the crazy thoughts as some of the previous plays, but as Lee put it the play is troubling.  Lee expanded on this point perfectly with another quote from the press notes.

 “For days after I kept thinking about it. Not only was it a great vehicle for actors but it also a complex play wrapped in a simple package: four characters, one apartment, two days. But what starts out as comedy/drama about modern marriage morphs sneakily into a psychological thriller and then shifts finally into something deeply tragic. It is a tricky play to pull off but we have the right cast and design team to make it happen and I think Dallas theater audiences are in for a big surprise.”

Starting with that "simple package".  The scenic designer, Sarah Brown (First STT production), has a one set design that highlights the claustrophobic feel of a Paris apartment in the Belleville area.  We have a couch, a tiny kitchen and a few important doors.  The unseen rooms are the bathroom, bedroom and the apartment complex itself aka the outside world.  There is also a window.  That window is a unique feature to this production, I'll get back to that.  Overall the tight fit really works perfectly in pulling the audience directly into the action without having to look over a massive apartment that could steal away from the characters' tension.  The lighting design and sound design are both nicely understated and minus a jarring sound of an ambulance the play's ambiance doesn't distract from the powerful dialogue.

The-cast-of-STTs-Belleville-Rico-Romalus-Parker-Afomia-Hailemeskel-Jenny-Ledel-Drew-Wall-1024x768

The talented foursome of actors are Jenny Ledel (Abby), Drew Wall (Zach),  Rico Romulus Parker (Alioune), & Afomia Hailemeskel (Amina).  The play opens with a funny moment of shock as Abby returns home from work to catch Zach doing something naughty, by himself.  The questions that arise of Zach's not being at work are gently pushed into the back of our minds.  It's the introduction of Alioune, the couple's landlord and occasional smoking buddy for Zach, that holds the real first signs of issues in the couple.  Abby is forced to keep Ali company while Zach showers away his earlier humiliation.  This back and forth is pivotal in showcasing how this is obviously Zach's domain, he handles the finances of the apartment.  But the major reveal of the first 30 minutes, of the 90 minute (no intermission) production, is the fact that Zach is behind on his rent by 4 months.  But Alioune and Zach's shared love of week keeps their friendship strong through the obvious weight of $ problems.  That before mentioned window is the place for their smoking and also a nice image of the only view outside of the apartment is always through the haze of Zach's weed.  

The ex-pat American couple seems dives head first into the fun witty relationship that has it's quirky issues but seems rather believable.  The real discussions of Abby's sister's pending labor and also Zach's job being one that deals with helping AIDS victims seems fresh and real.  Abby and Zach fight over normal issues like slight jealousies and even about how much weed Zach smokes, "you're smoking another bowl?".  But the rent is gently kept in the background.  Drew Wall and Jenny Ledel's performances are staggeringly good as for a good hour you really are invested in their tough but honest relationship.  Drew's slight sense of humor mixed in with Jenny's witty retorts creates a real belief in their authenticity.  It's as the lies start to be unraveled and the actors start to test their boundaries we really see them shine.  Jenny's physicality, especially after a foot injury, is perfectly done.  She sells the real pain and agony. This completely pays off with her harrowing scene that pushes the final 30 minutes into a whole new direction as a play.  Pain and agony take over the emotions of the final sequences of the play.  Instead of a well scripted work about struggling relationships Amy Herzog's words become brutally honest and the pain gained from the revelations becomes deadly.  The character of Amina, played with a really nice edge, is the haunting reality check about all the slightly off-kilter couple moments that point to the real issues these two folks are battling through.  She's completely correct to be on edge, but the extra pressure is just enough to put Zach and Abby to a final level of fear. 

STT's Belleville - Drew Wall, Jenny Ledel - by Karen Almond

The play does a wonderful job of gently touching on the issues of self-medication (both through weed and through getting off pills) and also about the constant pressures of life (rent).  Overall it's a play that showcases that STT can put on simple productions that still hit you with a huge message or moment of truth.  Great acting, perfectly simple design and obviously passionate direction leads to a great entertainment option.  It's perfect for cynical singles, confident couples, or even a spooky first date choice.  This is a play that isn't your typical cheap romantic comedy, it's heartbreaking in it's honest reality.  Overall take a chance to get to know one of the best female playwrights in the country.  Second Thought Theatre continues to put on Dallas' boldest work and this "simple package" production is another real treat. 

For more information about the production go, here.

And for a wonderful interview with Amy Herzog here is the great Charlie Rose.

All photos by Karen Almond are courtesy of Second Thought Theatre.

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