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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Maria Dizzia as Abby, and Gilbert Owuor as Alioune in a scene from "Belleville." (Photo by Joan Marcus.)
"Belleville" a compelling, dynamic play

by Kory Loucks

NEW HAVEN — Not all is as it appears in the world premiere of Amy Herzog’s play “Belleville” — a fine contemporary drama with unexpected twists and turns.

Newlyweds Abby and Zack, a recent medical school graduate, are living in the funky Belleville district of Paris where he has accepted a position as a pediatric AIDS researcher.

Abby has many neurotic issues including an over-attachment to her father, and Zack is doing all he can to manage her, to the point of withholding her cell phone from her.

She is something of a lost soul, taking French lessons then giving them up saying that it is unnecessary because everyone speaks English, and teaching a little yoga.

She arrives home early one afternoon and finds Zack unexpectedly there. As the play continues, the landlord and his wife, Alioune and Amina, enter, and it becomes evident that something is not right in this dimly lit corner of the City of Light.

Maria Dizzia plays Abby, a sarcastic woman who is drifting through life, opting to have her primary identity be that of a doctor’s wife, a role for the 32 year old that is far too narrow for her, but one that she thinks she wants.

Abby’s sister back in the United States is having a difficult pregnancy, but they can’t go home because of Visa problems, we learn.

I had some problem believing that Abby was talking with anyone on the other end of the phone. Zack was more convincing.

In France, the Belleville district is an area where few tourists visit, but where a richly diverse population lives and works.

The impressive set is the one bedroom flat where Zack and Abby have been living for the past four months. Designed by Julia C. Lee, it is one of the best, most detailed sets I have seen in a long time, with even the rooftop view of the chimneys.

I wondered about the broken restaurant sign visible out their apartment window, however. Granted, it’s supposed to be a lower income area, but it looks like something one would see in a war zone.

Still, the overall set looks like a work of art, and was fully utilized by director Anne Kauffman.

Kauffman showed courage allowing some scenes to be completely silent for what felt like an almost excruciatingly long time, but at the same time the silence felt completely appropriate and compelling.

It was the same, too, at the end of the play, where little is said but so much is communicated.

The French immigrant’s accents of Alioune and Amina, played by Gilbert Owuor and Pascale Armand, were believable and necessary to give the play its sense of foreignness. Fine work by vocal and dialect coach Beth McGuire.

There are some genuinely frightening and disturbing moments where the unstable characters reveal their long-kept secrets.

This underlying and increasing tension holds “Belleville” together and sweeps the audience along, even when logic says that the secrets probably would have been discovered long before they saw the light of day.

The combination of dynamic acting, confident direction, and strong writing make “Belleville” an excellent, compelling play.

Stage review

3 1/2 stars


Theater: Yale Repertory Theatre

Location: University Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven.

Production: Written by Amy Herzog. Directed by Anne Kauffman. Scenic design by Julia C. Lee. Costume design by Mark Nagle. Lighting design by Nina Hyun Seung Lee. Sound Designer and Composer Robert Kaplowitz. Production dramaturgs Amy Boratko and Alex Ripp. Vocal and dialect coach Beth McGuire. Fight directors Rick Sordelet and Jeff Barry.

Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.

Show times: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with Saturday matinees as 2 p.m., through Nov. 12.

Tickets: $25-$54. Call 203-432-1234 or visit:


Greg Keller...............................................Zack

Maria Dizzia............................................Abby

Gilbert Owuor....................................Alioune

Pascale Armand..................................Amina

4 stars Excellent 3 stars Good 2 stars Fair 1 star Poor

1/2 star designates half-rating higher

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