By Narelle Wood
Belleville by Amy Herzog is a challenging play in that it explores a dysfunctional relationship in a witty, yet brutally honest and often harrowing, way.
The story follows a couple of days in the life of Zack (Paul Ashcroft) and Abby (Christina O’Neill), an American couple living and working in France. Apart from language and obvious cultural differences, Abby is still grieving her mother’s death and experiencing homesickness, while Zack is doing what ever he can to make ends meet and Abby happy. Pestered by his landlord Alioune (Renaud Momtbrun) and his wife Amina (Tariro Mavondo) for overdue rent, Zack finds himself more and more desperate to put his life and relationship back on track.
O’Neill and Ashcroft work perfectly together as they negotiate the emotional turmoil of their characters: from deep passion, to exasperation, tenderness, desperation, to outright hatred, these two actors depict it all with a disturbing realism that makes the play both riveting and difficult to watch. O’Neill’s portrayal of Abby is just as complex as her character’s slow mental decline and Ashcroft similarly presents Zack as a multidimensional character who is just as ingratiating as he is completely unappealing.
The Parisian apartment where the play is set is small, but director Denny Lawrence makes maximum use of the available space both on and off stage, with the bedroom and bathroom providing really clever opportunities for costume changes and storyline segues. The use of props, including their placement and movement to different areas of the stage, is very cleverly choreographed. However, what perhaps is the most impressive thing about Lawrence’s direction is the way he has dealt with and enabled the actors to deal with demanding themes and situations.
Although Belleville has some funny moments, it is not a play for escapism or one that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. Red Stitch’s latest production expertly provides a dose of relationship realism and is a resolute must-see if you like plays that are expertly staged with a quality script and excellent acting.
Venue: Red Stitch Theatre, 2 Chapel St, St Kilda
Season: Until 31st May, Wed-Fri 8pm, Sat 4pm and 8pm, Sun 6.30pm
Tickets: Full $39| Conc $20