Chicago Culture Vulture

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“Belleville”: The bloody, watery messes we make when we love and lie


Review originally published by Buzz Magazine 

In a posh French flat in the Parisian neighborhood of Belleville, Abby walks in on her new husband Zack masturbating to porn. The Americans are living the dream: she teaches yoga in her fantasy city, he saves lives with Doctors without Borders, and the two couldn’t be more in amour. But this discovery is the first crack of many which erupt in a shocking climax that warns against perfection, lies, and living for others.

Amy Herzog’s “Belleville,” commissioned and premiered by Yale Repertory Theatre where she received her M.F.A, powerfully closes Steppenwolf Theatre’s “The Reckoning” season. Directed by Anne Kauffman, who helmed the premier and Off-Broadway incarnations, the 100-minute play is raw, funny, and devastating. Herzog’s contemporary-set script still creates a traditional playground for the Steppenwolf design team. Greek and Shakespearean imagery – blood, water, daggers – appear alongside cell phones and a luxurious French apartment with plenty of natural light to expose the wounds within.

The wounds are suffered by four characters, played by a talented ensemble – Kate Arrington and Cliff Chamberlain shock, move, and scare as the destructive couple Abby and Zack. Chris Boykin and Alana Arenas entertain, ground, and comfort as the stable couple Alioune and Amina. This couple are the landlords of the building, who also care for their newborn, and are younger than Zack and Abby. While they make their relationship work, Zack smokes weed, Abby pops pills, and the pair fight and torture themselves, one another, and others. At opposite ends of the alphabet, A and Z shouldn’t be together; meanwhile, Alioune and Amina are A synchronized pair.

“Belleville” is an edgy, existential thriller, brilliantly brought to life by powerhouse performers, designers, and a director. While I feared it would be a masturbatory musing on the troubles of wealthy Americans, Herzog digs deep into their psyches and creates contemporary truly tragic characters. It’s not a feel-good play, although I did feel good as I left – haunted by a Herzog’s warning, impressed by its execution, and glad to be single.

“Belleville” is a well-behaved tenant in the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre from June 27 – August 25, 2013. For more information and tickets, visit


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This entry was posted on July 3, 2013 by in Theatre Review.
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