Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


Belleville
Custom Made Theatre Co.
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of The Speakeasy, Avenue Q and Shen Yun Performing Arts and Patrick's review of Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story


Justin Gillman and Alisha Ehrlich
Photo by Jay Yamada
Amy Herzog is one of America's best young playwrights. She wrote After the Revolution and won an Obie Award for Best New American Play in 2012 for 4000 Miles. Her latest play, Belleville, now appearing at Custom Made Theatre Co., turns ugly. The four member cast is outstanding in this production.

Belleville takes place in Paris and centers on Abby (Alisha Ehrlich) and Zack (Justin Gillman) who are renting a flat from a Senegalese landlord Alioune (Nick Sweeney) and his wife Amina (Nkechi Emeruwa) who live downstairs. Abby is something of a neurotic. She is an actress who teaches yoga but skips her French classes because "the French can be so judgey and mean." She has stopped going to her lessons because the teacher made fun of her. She is also a failed actress, but she has not "suffered" enough. Abby is homesick for America and she talks to her dad in America every day.

Zack has a job with Doctors Without Borders and is doing research to cure pediatric AIDS. He also has a weed habit and has found a stoner buddy in his landlord. Zack is more of an easygoing spouse, catering to Abby's every whim. The interplay between these two dysfunctional characters keeps things fascinating.

The playwright is a tough and exacting writer and the dialogue rings true, such as Zack telling Abby he just wants to be "happy," as she explodes, "I am so tired of this fucking pressure to be happy. I am not happy, okay, that's just not my, like, mode of being, so if that's what you're trying to accomplish, stop."

Alisha Ehrich and Justin Gillman are outstanding in the roles of Abby and Zack. It's hard to love this couple, with Abby being an endless pill and Zack most certainly creepy. The two actors skillfully play their characters to the hilt. On the other hand, Nkechi Emeruwa and Nick Sweeney as the Senegalese couple, adroitly play grownups, stark counterpoints to the immature Zack and Abby. Before Zack cracks, they go through a faltering series of arguments and reconciliations.

Belleville reminds me of a Hitchcock movie, as it is strong on atmosphere but short on plot.

Belleville plays through January 28th, 2017, at Custom Made Theatre Co., 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. Tickets can be obtained at www.custommade.org. Coming up next is Lucas Hnath's Isaac's Eye running from February 16 to March 11.


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