Also see Fred's review of Water By the Spoonful
Zack is, seemingly, a young physician associated with Doctors Without Borders. Abby, an aspiring actress, teaches a yoga class. The couple, living in the Belleville area of Paris quite recently, is familiar to many of us. We might see them (figuratively) strolling down streets relatively near, for example, the Brooklyn Bridge. Herzog, however, places them in an upstairs apartment in Paris. We discover, as time passes, that Zack, a man who conceals a great deal, owes four months rent to Alioune (Gilbert Owuor) and Amina (Pascale Armand).
Zack is supposedly assisting on a research project to limit the spread of AIDS among children. Abby, at the very outset of the play, finds him sitting before his computer in a sexually self-satisfying mode. This is the first indication of trouble, tension and turmoil. What follows is not pretty.
A young and attractive woman temporarily off her anti-depression medication, Abby's moments and moods flash from one extreme to the other. She is loving, physical, and devoted; or paranoid and, sometimes with good reason, terrified.
Kauffman chooses to stage the intense and personal interactions (oftentimes) in absolute quiet. One of the protagonists enters the bathroom, something falls. The literal noise is not resounding but within the confines of Yale Repertory's Theatre it feels as if a boulder has dropped. Robert Kaplowitz is the effective sound designer and composer for the show.
Neither Abby nor Zack is stable. For reasons not to be divulged here, neither is entirely truthful. Herzog unveils a psychologically damaged husband and wife unit by increments. Finally, the dysfunctional and disturbing relationship is in full destructive disarray.
Throughout, each individual elicits some sympathy and we do not despise them. Yet, it is evident that the horror show will not mitigateand that is nothing short of tragic.
Maria Dizzia, whose performance several years back at Yale Rep in Eurydice was memorable, is once again superlative. She moves from a colloquial, likable young woman to one who is almost possessed. The production demands that she be intimate, and the actress is convincing in that role. Greg Keller is recognizable to Western Massachusetts theatergoers for his many fine turns in productions at the Berkshire Theatre Festival. Now, as Zack, he plays a man who is initially appealing but for whom one will lose empathy. Dizzia and Keller appeared together last season at the Manhattan Theatre Club in Cradle and All. As performers they have rapport, collective knowledge, and work extremely well together on stage.
Set designer Julia C. Lee provides a flat with shabby furnishings including a large sofa, wooden table, floor cushions, and windows which let in some sunlight. The play is absolutely unnerving and there is a temptation to wish for just anything which might be promising as Abby and Zack lose their way. That wish rests unfulfilled, but the play itself is beautifully crafted and enacted. Just last week playwright Herzog received the 2011 Whiting Writers' Award which recognizes and supports the work of writers with vast potential. The difficult hour and forty-five minutes in Belleville fly by without intermission. On the other hand, so much happens.
Belleville continues at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven through November 12th. For tickets, call (203) 432-1234 or visit www.yalerep.org.
- Fred Sokol