NEW YORK (AP) — She's a whiny, spoiled, would-be yoga teacher with no students, and he's a lying pothead. They're young Americans living an ex-pat dream in Paris while under increasing emotional duress, and their romantic fantasy about Parisian life is fading fast.
Fortunately, this couple was created by Amy Herzog ("4000 Miles" and "The Great God Pan"). So while the subtle disintegration of the immature pair in her new play, "Belleville," is somewhat predictable, the characters are complex, with nuances that make us care about them despite some almost-melodramatic plot twists.
The unsettling drama, which world-premiered at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 2011, opened Sunday night in a compellingly-acted production off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop. Herzog withholds much of the couple's backstory and reasons for distress until they boil over late in the play, so Anne Kauffman's seasoned direction is critical to revealing little cracks in their initially pleasant facades and bantering interactions.
Maria Dizzia plays emotionally fragile, self-absorbed, Daddy's-girl Abby with a perfectly girlish, lisping, nasal voice. Dizzia makes her quite likable, despite her neediness. Far from home, Abby hasn't chosen the most optimum time to deliberately "go off her medications" for depression and/or anxiety, and her husband, Zack, is trying to take care of her during the difficult "period of transition."
Greg Keller is perfectly cast as Zack, a young doctor who's taken a job in Paris researching pediatric AIDS. Keller is excellent at conveying his character's duality, making Zack appealing and sympathetic right up until he isn't any more. Zack seems charming yet terrified, desperately trying to keep up appearances while making barely plausible excuses for things that aren't quite right.
The audience sees him unraveling long before his wife figures it out, as he compulsively smokes marijuana whenever Abby leaves the room. Dizzia and Keller are quite plausible as a close couple destabilizing as the ground shifts away underneath them.
The couple's landlord, a young French-Senegalese man named Alioune (well-played by Phillip James Brannon), is a hard-working family man who's befriended the pair. Pascale Armand exudes disapproval as his angry wife, Amina, who finds the American couple's carefree, irresponsible behavior infuriating.
When a large knife is unexpectedly wielded as a pedicure tool, the downward spiral picks up steam. By the time Abby unleashes some terrifying rage at her husband, and he reveals the extent of his deception, it's clear that while this couple will always have Paris, they may not always have each other.