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Belleville – Studio Theatre

Jordan Wright
September 8, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

In Amy Herzog’s Belleville the viewer is afforded a plate glass window onto the seemingly idyllic Parisian life chosen by an attractive young American couple.  Eager to absorb the culture, Abby and Zack, bring their hipster lifestyle to the City of Lights, “Or is it City of Life?” Abby posits.  In their case it becomes a mirror reflecting back their secrets, lies and insecurities.

Jacob H Knoll (Zack) and Gillian Williams (Abby) in Belleville. Photo: Igor Dmitry.

Jacob H Knoll (Zack) and Gillian Williams (Abby) in Belleville. Photo: Igor Dmitry.

Zack has taken a job in Paris working on children’s AIDS research – a cause Abby finds “noble”.  It appears to be somewhat of a charmed life.  But the innocents abroad have brought along more than their dreams and suitcases to the multi-cultural neighborhood of Belleville.  They have packed their emotional baggage too.  And a horrid Freudian-filled brew it is.

The first two scenes (there’s no intermission) unwind slowly with an overlong set up that lays out the dynamics of the couple.  It lingers on their interpersonal issues, and a budding friendship with their landlord, Alioune (Maduka Steady), a successful 25-year old Senegalese who lives in the building with his wife and two children.  Abby’s self-effacing responses to the landlord and her forgiving manner towards Zack, lull us into a false sense of ease about the couple’s relationship.

Gillian Williams (Abby) in Belleville. Photo: Igor Dmitry.

Gillian Williams (Abby) in Belleville. Photo: Igor Dmitry.

Gillian Williams shows us a lithe, vulnerable Abby, caught up in a Parisian fantasy of her own imagining.  With pressure to compete with her sister’s successful marriage and win her father’s affection, she alternately needles Zach and coddles him.  “I can be emotionally abusive,” she confesses.  Williams’ ability to shift gears from kittenish to claws-out tigress to emotional wreck and back again is riveting.  To counterbalance her neuroses Jacob H Knoll gives an equally taut performance as Zack, an emotionally stunted husband who seeks her approval.

In an accompanying media kit, reviewers were asked to “not reveal any major plot details” – rightfully calling out a new wave of unprofessional “critics” who feel it’s necessary to tell the entire plot as if it’s CliffsNotes.  So don’t expect any further revelations in this review as to where the play is headed.  We honor the playwright’s sense of suspense and surprise.  But be forewarned, it’s explosive and chilling, and sharp objects are involved.

Joy Jones (Amina) and Maduka Steady (Alioune) in Belleville. Photo: Igor Dmitry.

Joy Jones (Amina) and Maduka Steady (Alioune) in Belleville. Photo: Igor Dmitry.

Both Maduka Steady and Joy Jones, as his wife, Amina, give solid performances as the landlord and his disapproving wife.

Through October 12th at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St., Washington, DC 20005.  For tickets and information call 202 332.3300 or visit www.StudioTheatre.org.

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