Amy Herzog is Back in Town!

Amy Herzog PhotoA year ago this time, we were enjoying a successful run of After The Revolution by the white-hot young playwright, Amy Herzog. We were following on the heels of Studio Theatre’s 4000 Miles.

Nancy Robinette as Vera and Megan Anderson as Emma in "After The Revolution"

Nancy Robinette as Vera and Megan Anderson as Emma in “After The Revolution”

Baltimore Center Stage’s artistic director, Kwame Kwei-Armah was in our audience a year ago and deeply enthused by what he saw in Herzog’s world — an elegant fusion of the personal and political; the familial historical drama replete with deep inter-generational relationships fused with staggering revelations. Kwame’s producing both After The Revolution and 4000 Miles at Center Stage this season in a repertory staging that should be wonderfully illuminating (this time, with the character of Vera, the octogenarian Commie grandma) no doubt played by the same actress!

Tana Hicken and Grant Harrison in Studio Theatre’s production of "4000 Miles"

Tana Hicken and Grant Harrison in Studio Theatre’s production of “4000 Miles”

Should be amazing, right?

Last night we took in Herzog’s third NYC hit play (though a thornier story and, truth be told, not quite the regional hit that the other two plays have been; 4000 Miles being the short 3 character play that dozens upon dozens are producing and still producing all over the country.) Belleville over at Studio Theatre is a new genre play for Herzog, though it’s got staggering revelations of a different sort going on: It’s a thriller. Or I should say, it becomes a thriller. It starts as a character study of a couple; of two couples; a meditation on First World Problems of Entitlement meeting up with more Working Class Immigrant Concerns. But the play’s a lot more than a sociological study. And it’s a lot more than a hollywood nail-biter, though toe-nails do factor into the stagecraft.

Jacob H. Knoll and Gillian Williams in ‘Belleville’ at Studio Theatre. Photo by Igor Dmitry

Jacob H. Knoll and Gillian Williams in ‘Belleville’ at Studio Theatre. Photo by Igor Dmitry

Eager to hear responses!

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

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

45 thoughts on “Amy Herzog is Back in Town!

  1. First of all I could not sit still in my seat. I think the whole audience was right next to Abby and Zach on their emotional rollercoaster. The play made me uncomfortable because we’re allowed access to very personal moments between the couple. Issues like these happen every day all over the world, but always behind closed doors. I appreciated the chance to reflect on intimate, emotionally taxing, and possibly unhealthy relationships.

    This play was personal for me and it hit a couple nerves to be honest. It was hard for me to watch Zach and Abby get mad at each other. It was hard to watch them fight because we know that they are all each other have – they need each other. Watching this couple puts in perspective what we really need out of relationships. Zach and Abby loved each other, but they needed better communication and trust to nurture their relationship. Perhaps more importantly, they also needed to take better care of their own mental health before they could take care of each other.

    Finally, I noticed some symbolism but am hoping to work out its complete meaning. The most obvious reference to this baby symbolism is Abby telling Zach that, “We can start over.” Immediately afterwards, her brother-in-law called to say Abby’s sister has just delivered the baby. Throughout the play, I also found myself comparing the two couples. As Zach and Abby are childless and are struggling to overcome past issues, their neighbors seem put together and looking ahead to a bright future, one that includes their baby. I think the baby symbolized a better future, a life in which they are not pulled down by the weight of past deaths, emotional problems, ended educations, and family pressures. I only wish Abby and Zach would have that future.

    • Kim,
      I totally agree that this play kept me on the edge of my seat and anxious about what was happening next. An emotional roller coaster is a great way to describe it.
      I initially didn’t pick up on the baby metaphor. It’s interesting that the Abby and Zach wanting to start over tied in perfectly with the birth of the new baby. It was also interesting how the babies of the their neighbors symbolized a more stable, happy, and successful life than they have.
      It is sad to think about how Zach and Abby never got their fresh start, and how they were overcome by the stress and sadness in their lives.

    • Watching them fight made me cringe a lot too because I felt like most of their problems stemmed from terrible miscommunication and lots of misunderstandings between the two. And I think they had their breakthrough towards the end before Zack killed himself. They could have taken this moment of vulnerability and complete awareness of each other’s thoughts to begin the healing process. In that moment, they had been presented with a chance to create a relationship that wasn’t filled with heaviness and damning secrets. It’s a shame that they didn’t take it.

      Also, great catch on the symbolism between the birth of the baby and the chance at a fresh start. All the more reason I’m frustrated that they didn’t actually get to it! I really wish they could have had a beautiful future, and I think the potential to do so was really there.

    • Kim,

      Like you, I loved being able to witness the emotional and raw moments between Abby and Zack. I felt it added to the intensity of the play because nothing was hidden and we were able to closely witness the downfall of their relationship. In addition, I also felt uncomfortable at some points because even though it was just an act, I do not enjoy watching or listening to other’s disagreements.

      However, I am confused about your description of the baby symbolism. If a baby symbolizes a better future, why did Zack commit suicide following the news about Abby’s sister giving birth? Unless, you think that Abby is now able to have a future now that Zack is dead and she can start over, by herself.

  2. With this play, you really do see the complexities of forming, understanding, continuing, and unraveling a relationship. The emotional roller coaster the play guides us through was an amazing journey for me. Just like Kim said, I couldn’t sit still in my seat, eager to see what comes next.

    First off, I want to talk about communication. Abby and Zach are supposedly two people who know each other very well, and they do. But like any couples, any two people who are in a relationship, they can be the most distant. And I think this play captures that duality so well. Abby and Zach give two different perspectives on their reasons for being in Paris to Alioune in the beginning of the play. They were focused on what they were sacrificing for the other, when in fact as the play unravels even more, we see that it is precisely themselves who had put themselves in that situation, in Paris. The lack of honest and true communication, as cliche as that sounds, really surface throughout the play.

    In contrast, the other couple, Alioune and Amina, have a moment at the very end of the play. There is a very tender moment when Alioune tells Amina that he’s sorry, twice. The forgiveness that comes from Amina after, shows the way Amina and Alioune has built trust over the years. This moment of vulnerability and trust starkly contrast against Zach and Abby’s marriage.

    Then there are triggers stemming from this lack of understanding. The funny thing for me is that Abby’s phone is a trigger for both Abby and Zach. Abby’s over-dependence on her dad and Zach’s desire to have Abby’s attention can all be seen by the reactions whenever the phone rings. The phone introduces the home that both Zach and Abby want, and to me, it even suggested a brief sense of past (time difference/ static sense of time in the moment of contraction) With so much symbolism of “the phone” we immediately see Zach making up his mind as soon as Abby picks up the phone and says, “Hi Daddy, I’m so happy to hear your voice.” That moment of change in Zach was the hardest for me to watch because that moment was when he lost all hope in Abby, in the relationship, and in himself in continuing this relationship – to the degree that he would end his life.

    Lastly, I want to talk about the set design. Zach and Abby both feel trapped in Paris, and the sense of containment slowly builds up. Amy Herzog does this so beautifully with her script that the emotional and psychological suffocation becomes very palpable accompanied with the beautiful performance by the actors. The instability of where they’re going to live and the sense of belonging, nostalgia become all meshed within this apartment. The releases to all of this, I felt were the knife (and the pain) and the windows – The sharp pain that can pierce the uneasiness and the fresh cold air that can clear up the mind, or something along those lines.

    I loved this show. It was emotionally gripping. A thriller as the blog says it. It put all of us in a very stressful environment and I think that’s what theatre is all about: to see, to feel the uneasiness and to be challenged emotionally. Being directly challenged and invited to feel uncomfortable are the two components that make theatre truly beautiful and it was absolutely amazing to experience that.

  3. This play started out as just a story about a young American couple who had just moved to Paris, but very quickly took a turn and became the emotionally intense and sometimes even uncomfortable play that kept me right on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happens next. The theatrics were amazing, with scenes like the toenail scene, that felt like a car wreck and I couldn’t help but stare right at it.

    One part of this play that really stood out to me was when Abby asks Alioune “Let me ask you this. When you were little, did your parents intone, over and over, ‘It doesn’t matter what you do when you grow up as long as you’re happy?’” after she finds out that he is younger than her and already has two children and is a successful businessman. It is a good parallel of the how the ‘American dream’ is seen differently by different people. To Alioune, to grow up and be successful was the goal, but for Abby the goal was to grow up and be happy. It’s both frustrating and relatable to see her struggle when she realizes that she is neither successful nor happy. I think maybe one of the reasons Abby struggles to find herself is because she is still immature and overly dependent on her father. She also lives in denial about the mental state of herself and her husband as well as their financial situation.

    Today, we are seeing more and more young adults who are not emotionally or financially independent. This is interesting because when my parents were my age, they were both already working in their careers and supporting themselves and their families. It’s kind of weird to think about that because I have no clue what I’m going to do after college and I’m still trying to figure these things out.

    • Carolyn,
      You made some great points about Abby failing to achieve the “American Dream.” Personally, my parents were the type to emphasize success over happiness, but I suppose that’s just because they thought the former would cause the latter. I’d also agree that Abby is over dependent on her father. It bothered me a lot at the end when her immediate response to tragedy is to call her father to come pick her up. I’m actually curious what would happen to Abby after the play because Zach was her everything. What will she do now? I can only hope her mental state doesn’t get even worse.

    • As I looked through comments, it really pleased me to see that someone else was just as struck as I was by the part where Abby and Alioune have the exchange on happiness. I appreciate your looking at it from the perspective of the American dream in transition for a born- and-bred American. I saw it from the perspective of an immigrant who was taught just what Alioune was taught while growing up. I am in a place where I am 21 and still merely flirting with ideas of what I want my future to be, while many of my age- mates back in my country are already dealing with the stage of establishing stability. I’m quite conflicted because I definitely do desire happiness, but Its hard to define happiness in the face of a dire need to pursue stability.

    • Carolyn,

      I think that the quote that you pulled from the show – “It doesn’t matter what you do when you grow up, as long as you’re happy” – was one of the most powerful quotes in the show for me. And it was so powerful because it’s something that I have heard numerous times, and something that Abby had heard numerous times, but was in stark contrast to the reality of Abby and Zack’s situation. As you discussed in your post, many of us, as young adults, can relate to this disconnect between expectation and reality in various areas of our lives. The question is: why? If our generation is told so often that what’s most important is not what we do, but that we are happy with what we’re doing, why does it feel as if there is more pressure to succeed, or perhaps even to be “happy”? I think that sometimes people make attaining happiness more of a task than it actually is, and other times (in fact, many times), other people underestimate how difficult ‘just being happy’ can be. There will always be obstacles in our lives, and happiness is not something that will always come easily, no matter how many times we are told that, “It’s okay, you can just be happy”. The challenge is how to deal with the moments where happiness does not come so naturally, and managing to find happiness despite the challenge.

  4. The theatre-going experience is at the same time personal and communal. As an audience member, you develop your own individual sense of attachment to the show’s characters, understanding of the plot, and sense of meaning from the performance. And, at the same time, as you share this experience with numerous other audience members, you develop a sense of community with the audience as a whole. As a group, you also develop feelings and opinions about the performance you are experiencing together.

    My experience watching the play, Belleville, captured this personal and community dynamic perfectly. While watching and becoming personally immersed in the performance of the actors on stage, I also could not help but notice the reactions of the people in the audience as well. In fact, the emotional responses I viewed in the audience were, in some ways, just as stirring and fascinating as some of the emotionally-gripping scenes of the show.

    As the fighting of main characters of the show, Abbey and Zach, became more intense and uncomfortable, so did the audience as a whole seem to become more tense, more frightened, more uncomfortable, more intrigued and, perhaps, more invested in the performance and the very real characters and stories that were presented to us on the stage. By noticing the audience’s strong reaction to the performance, it validated my own strong reactions. During many of the scenes, I felt very struck by the weight of the performances. But as I realized that other audience members – scratch that, virtually all audience members – were having similar emotional responses, the play became that much more meaningful and powerful.

    As a group, we, the audience, were placed in the middle of every internal and external fight that Abbey and Zach had. Thanks to the great skill of the actors, we were able to feel much of what Abbey and Zach were feeling. And after the show, we were able to reflect on what we saw and felt as a group. And I think that this post-show, meaningful group dialogue is a testament to the power of the show’s script and actors’ skill.

    • Dominic,
      I definitely agree with your comments about part of what made the play so powerful was having our own individual reactions but also sharing our strong reactions as a group with the entire audience. I think one reason that we as an audience seemed to have such a strong universal reaction was because of how Ann Herzog structured the time frame of the play. There isn’t a huge time jump in between scenes so we, the audience, feel as if we’re experiencing everything live in real time with the characters. We feel like we’re experiencing their fights ourselves and reacting to what’s being said as if we’re the ones fighting with Abbey or Zach, which is why we all seem to have similar, collective reactions of tense, frightened and uncomfortable.

    • Dominic I completely agree with your statement that theater-going is a communal event and a personal journey. I feel like it is similar to life. We all are going through our personal journeys in life, but it is never alone. Sure, it may feel like no one understand what we are going through or who we are and what we are going through, but in reality there is always someone there with you or for you. You are most likely going through the same thing as someone else! I understand exactly what you mean when you talk about the audience’s reactions as well. They were interesting and as if they were a part of the lives we were viewing. At moments I wanted to jump on stage and tell them they were arguing over nothing or help them out in some way. I felt a part of this journey even though I was only viewing it.

  5. This play was very stressful to watch. The beginning started off a bit slowly, and I felt like the acting was a bit mediocre as well. But as the story progressed and we are let into the most intimate parts of their relationship, their struggles, and their love for one another the acting became better, and I was completely drawn into it all.

    My biggest issue with the play; however, was the ending. I guess I’m a sucker for happy endings, and this play didn’t give me that at all. The suicide left me chilled to the bones, and I was very frustrated that things ended so poorly between Abby and Zach. I think they had a real potential to start over. They had already begun the process (although very painful) of healing by laying it all out on the table and sharing all the terrible thoughts they’d been harboring throughout their marriage. I think they could have made it out of this alive, and it’s disappointing that they didn’t.

    I really liked the feel of this theater as well. It was small and intimate, and I think that those qualities added to the experience of this very tense play. Whenever I looked around, I saw that others were sharing the same facial experience as me, and I could feel the same uneasiness I was feeling exuding from the as well.

    Lastly, I wonder if the actors, especially Joy and Maduka, actually spoke French or if they had to learn the French lines just for the play. If the latter, then great kudos to them! It sounded authentic! I also liked the diversity of the play. Paris is typically portrayed as being fabulous with fabulous people. But I like that Herzog wanted to portray the real and authentic Paris this time, and I think she executed it well. I did come out feeling like I had a clearer picture of what Paris is like without having been there myself.

    • I understand your frustration with the ending of “Belleville”. I fundamentally believe that as human beings, we have a natural inclination to seek out happy endings and warm emotions because it makes us feel good about ourselves. It gives us hope that maybe reflecting upon our own lives or situations, at the end of the day, everything will be OK. However, we shouldn’t be quick to discount the chilling conclusion of the play because it isn’t necessarily a happy ending or because it leaves us in even more discomfort and disbelief. In fact, we should relish in these types of endings because they’re real and both emotion- and thought-provoking. Sure, “Belleville” could have ended with Abby and Zack working out their issues, Alioune and Amina forgiving Zack of the trouble he has caused, and the two couples living like best friends in France for the rest of life (perhaps even with a “Friends”-esque Central Perk opening up right below their apartments). But, this type of conclusion wouldn’t have been as powerful, in my opinion. I would have thought, “Oh, that’s nice,” and moved on with my life, not giving much more thought to the play. If I would have given it any thought at all with this type of ending, I’m sure I would have believed it to be inauthentic and I would have been left disappointed. I think “Belleville” reminds us all that life isn’t so tidy and able to be wrapped up with a bow. It’s oftentimes complicated with tragedies and issues that affect real lives. I appreciated the play’s stay-true-to-form nature in this way.

      Thank you for sharing your interesting thoughts and insights. I hope I didn’t sound too cynical!

  6. First off, I want to applaud everyone who had a hand in the production of Amy Herzog’s “Belleville”. I was left on the edge of my seat one minute yearning to see the characters continue to unpack their issues and the very next minute, I had my hands in front of my face, stressed out about what was going to come next.

    There are many great things to this play, but what I wish to draw attention to is how it doesn’t feel like a play at all. The set is positioned in such a way that it feels like the audience is a “fly on the wall” of this young couple’s apartment. The living room seems to be cut in half, so we, as audience members, seem to fill in the rest of the room. An additional way this play does not feel like a play is the lack of asides. Every time an actor was alone on stage, I expected them to address the audience and give background information or reveal their emotions and thoughts. However, all of this is revealed through the actors’ interactions with each other, themselves, and with the many props used. This was very clever of Herzog because it made it feel more natural and like I was actually watching real couples deal with their very intimate issues. In fact, there were several points in the play where I had to remind myself that I was just watching actors on a stage and that the conflicts were not actually real.

    Just because the play was not real though obviously does not mean it did not elicit real, visceral emotions from me though. Last week, we discussed as a class what theatre is good for and Amy Herzog’s “Belleville” is a wonderful illustration to the answer to this question. For instance, I turned away in disgust when Abby ripped her toenail off; I felt Zack’s stress when Alioune tells him he has less than a week to pull together all of the rent money; and, I felt the coldness of Amina’s stares. Throughout the whole play, I felt a pervasive sense of discomfort as I observed these four characters’ lives for a very brief span of two and a half days, yet I was OK with this discomfort. I was OK with it, because it was so very real and the play brought attention to very believable issues newly married couples may have (or quite simply, problems that people have, regardless of marital status). It does not attempt to sugarcoat things and then tie everything neatly with a bow by the end of the play. That’s not always how life works, so I appreciate that “Belleville” does not attempt to do the same.

    Once again, terrific job to everyone involved with the production. It was an amazing experience to be an audience member of this play!

    • Timothy, I also thought the set and lack of monologue contributed to the overall messages of the play. If there had been monologue and the set had been different, I don’t think that the play would have seemed as real to me. With nothing to guide the audience in the form of monologue or asides, the play becomes much more unsettling. In addition, the set itself was confusing and rambunctious with police sirens constantly chiming in and out. Not only that, Amy Herzog stages the play with “a mix of convincing knockoffs of stylish modern furniture pieces and accents that suggest North African fabrics and crafts. IKEA meets Parisian Flea Market”. She uses this set to not only make the play seem more tangible to the audience but also to reinforce the overall themes of the play. Zack and Abby’s use of “convincing knockoffs” mirrors the cover-ups they use in their lives and relationship to hide their confusion and sadness. Amy Herzog’s setting and lack of monologue makes the play seem more real and gives the messages of her play more support.

    • Hi Timothy,
      I agree with your comment that Belleville did not really feel like a play, as much as it did a real life experience that we were intruding on. I like that you used the set to describe this. In addition to the living room being cut in half, I really enjoyed how the stage extended out into the audience like a half-circle, and I think this added to that effect that you describe. It’s funny that you say you expected the characters to speak to the audience when they were alone, because I had no such expectations. It seemed to me that this was going to be a glimpse into the lives of a couple without any background information or anything revealed through the characters directly to us. It was almost as if the audience didn’t exist. Still, even when they were alone, the characters captivated us through their actions and self-mumbling. I too had to remind myself several times during the production that this was in fact only a play and not real life.

  7. Studio Theatre’s production of “Belleville” was an intense emotional journey. The main characters, Abby and Zack, were fraught with complexity; however, I found it difficult to relate to them. I was sad for them and though I could relate to aspects of their relationship, as individuals, I found it more difficult to connect to them.

    There were many unanswered questions, many avenues the play opens that were not fully explored. For instance, there is little exploration of how the young, white, American couple relate to the predominantly immigrant neighborhood (the title of the play). We find out at the end of the play that Zack dropped out of medical school because of a bad exam and missing his financial aid deadline but do not get a more complicated perspective about his past. It is hard for me to empathize with him when my gut reaction is to be more sympathetic.

    Additionally, Alioune and Amina were fascinating characters that barely got any time on stage. When Alioune steps on stage for the first time and converses with Abby while Zack is in the shower, I actually felt some sexual tension and though the play would involve some type of infidelity.

    It seems like this work was focused more on the relationship between Zack and Abby. Amy Herzog combined a myriad and plethora dynamics into the play: they are a young couple, there is a dearth in finances, they move to a new country, there was a traumatic death, Abby has depression, Zack may be overly dependent on marijuana, there is a friendship on the line, is there love between this couple, and so forth. The audience watch how the interaction of these elements unfolds in Zack and Abby’s relationship and that is what I feel like the play is about. However, I would have enjoyed the play more if there were further character development for all the characters, not just Abby.

    Overall as an experience, I would say the “Belleville” most definitely played with my emotions. It made me feel anxious, nervous, and stressed. I do not typically enjoy those feelings however, I must say, to make someone feel that way is a powerful. I would like to extend kudos to the set designer, Debra Booth. I was incredibly impressed at how much detail was in the set, from the tiles in the bathroom, to the ironwork on the windows. Additionally, the lighting by Peter West enhanced the production and did a wonderful job in indicating the passing of time and the time of day.

    All in all, it “Belleville” was a unique, emotionally driven experience though I left Studio Theatre with a desire to know more about the characters.

  8. While I thoroughly enjoyed the climatic plot of the work of Belleville, I want to concentrate my response beyond the story itself. The language in the script and its execution in the play itself – meaning its realist word choice, the utilization of French, and the instructions of body movement – drew my attention in how it called so little attention to itself. The attention to language by writer Amy Herzog, and through the actors themselves at Studio Theatre, constructed an absolute crystal window into reality.

    Herzog’s script truly embodied the everyday in a brilliant way. The script and dialogue did not seem contrived, and at moments towards the beginning of the play, I found myself almost bored with some of the dialogue simply through how common and realistic they were. Every moment was not jam-packed full of material; some conversations were patient, some interactions slow, and that is life. This realist beginning set the tone for the play, allowing for the climatic ending to come to full fruition, in an absolutely intentional, yet slow and measured, building.

    Beyond the simplicity of the script’s dialogue – which I can not under emphasize, as tempered simplicity is much more difficult than a whirlwind of complexity – I was drawn to the implementation of French throughout the play for more than its ability to remind us of the Paris setting. French came into play in crucial parts of dialogue, including the moments when Zack would be speaking on the phone with his “boss,” which really consisted of basic “yes” and short responses, to the discussion between Alioune and Amina in the final scene, when they are cleaning Zack and Abby’s apartment and having a very laissez-faire conversation about the previous occupants, despite the previous climatic moment of Zack’s suicide. Both the sound of French and the words exchanged suggest the cliché that “life goes on,” awkwardly soothing the audience in a post-traumatic time of emotion and tension.

    Finally, the use of body movement became a key part of Belleville as character movement allowed the set to sink into the background and truly become a one-bedroom apartment rather than a stage. Body language also became a key communicator of dramatic irony as we watched Zack and Abby’s separate reactions to each other when the other’s back was turned or wasn’t on center stage. All of these elements added to this falsified construction of reality that, by the end of the play, erased the construction and left only reality until the actors took their bows.

    One element I really admired about the show is how welcoming it was in its ability to erase the stage and the set into a fluid, one-bedroom room and relationship between two people. I often found myself purposely attempting to distance myself from this pull to remind myself it was a play, so my hat goes off to the actors and the utilization of the set to not make it feel 2-D in the way it can when the stage is clearly facing an audience.

    • The simplicity of the dialogue and the set made this play work. Herzog set up Abby and Zach’s relationship by focusing on the routine — or even mundane — happenings of a young couple’s marriage. The one-bedroom apartment, coupled with the quick fights-turned-flirts, led us to believe that Abby and Zach were just another young couple struggling to make things work. Herzog sucked us in to this feeling of complacency before shattering every bit of normalcy in the relationship. So, I think you’re spot on in saying the script embodied the everyday in a brilliant way (and kudos on the rhyme).

  9. In the post-show discussion last night Juan’s question about the purpose of the siren sound effects got me to start thinking about what I felt the reason for their existence to be. After the actors’ response about the sirens being used to set the scene and contextualize the neighbor Abbey and Zach lived in I understood what an important scenic element they were but it wasn’t the reason I had initially thought of.

    I had been thinking about the indirect effect the sirens had on the audience, or at least me personally. I felt the sirens reminded me of the danger that always lurked in Abbey in Zach’s relationship. I noticed that a lot of the times the sirens could be heard in quiet moments or at times where they weren’t fighting, when they were simply talking and having their playful banter. I felt like the sirens sort of reminded me that things were never quite okay in their relationship. There was always this lurking sense that something wasn’t right and something bad and destructive was building and bound to make itself known soon.

    I don’t know if this was intentional or something that came forward during the rehearsal process and I may be the only one that feels this way. I think this shows the skill of the director, David Muse, and the sound designer, Ryan Rumery, because he picked the specific moments in the script where the sound of the sirens create an eerie feeling and you’re never quite able to get comfortable in the setting of Zach and Abbey’s home and relationship. I also feel like this is a reason that makes Belleville a successful play and Ann Herzog a successful playwright. The work is able to live and thrive beyond the script and these new, slight elements that further the play’s themes are able to come forward in the live performance.

      • Great analysis of the sirens, Molly, I think you are spot on! Though the sirens most definitely contextualize the neighborhood for the audience, I do wish there would have been more contextualization of the neighborhood. Because they are in an urban area, maybe one of them could have gotten mugged? Or perhaps there could have been yelling in the apartments around them in foreign languages? I think there is conflict on many levels with a white, middle-class American couple living in a multicultural neighborhood in Paris face that Herzog could have furthered her exploration of that as a way of underscoring how much of a toll that could take on the main characters in addition to the slew of conflicts they already face.

  10. This play was definitely different from Yentl and G-d’s Honest Truth in the fact that it was extremely intimate and personal because it highlights distress within a couple’s personal life. Being able to look into a couple’s life was in a way therapeutic for me. Similar to Abby and Zack I ended up falling in love my freshman year of college and it was great at the beginning. All of the talks, hanging out, nicknames and essentially that happy lifestyle that we see Abby and Zack start off with were something that I experienced. In the same manner that we see their relationship transition I experienced the same negative dynamic within my relationship. The constant arguing, finding a reason to argue about, and misunderstanding one another in every way possible were things that I could relate to because I have been there. The play was so powerful it made me relate to this couple with something that happened to me roughly three years ago.

    Talk about the power of theater! I think that this is what makes theater great. Taking an audience and allowing them to go into their own little worlds and re-live, or live for the first time, an experience that we view on stage. This is hard to do, but when it is done properly it is indescribably powerful. That is why I loved this play, because it was capable of taking me from thinking about the fact that I am viewing a play to entering into their world and feeling as if I was reliving something similar, but different in many ways, to the lives they were enacting.

    I was really caught off guard with the suicide attempts and the actual act of committing suicide. This is a touchy topic for me because I have had many friends in my life who have tried to commit suicide and I know how scary it is. This whole play was an emotional roller coaster that had me reliving many deep and emotional, but life-changing experiences. This experience will not fade any time soon and I think that that says something about the power of theater. The impact it makes on people is more than enjoyment, but therapeutic and creates a sense of relatability in the fact that you are not alone in your experiences. I loved this play.

    • The play definitely gave the audience a good insight into the characters lives. I think it allows people to take a look at themselves and be self reflective. Although a bit dramatic and over played at times, the characters displayed how little things can build up and become major problems. As an audience member, the constant stress weighed on me, which really helped me connect with the characters. I could actually feel what they were going through and better understand their daily struggles. I really enjoyed this intimate feeling I had with the story, and the play was well done.

  11. Even with a fixed set on stage and a small cast of 4, a dynamic story in Belleville was communicated to the audience, and a foundation of diversity was established. Diversity, a recurring theme in this piece, does not manifest itself in the references to the demographics of the neighborhood and the difference between Abby/Zack and Amina/Alioune alone. To me, diversity came to stand as a representation of complexity that ran throughout the story. Complexity of life, feeling, trust, love, and most of all, happiness. Abby and Zack’s story came to me as an intimate, real, and nuanced representation of relationships, which we sometimes see as a wonderland without jagged edges. Zack and Abby seemed to be struggling to understand each other and to define happiness both for themselves and for the other. While the tensions between them (that even the audience begins to share) were quite obvious, it took me a while to piece together their struggle to define happiness as a big part of the complexity of their relationship.

    “Let me ask you this. When you were little, did your parents intone, over and over, “it doesn’t matter what you do when you grow up as long as you’re happy?”
    “No”
    “ I am increasingly convinced that this is the worst thing that you can say to a child. May I never say that to my children.”

    “I am so tired of this fucking pressure to be happy. I am not happy, okay, that’s just not my, like mode of being, so if that’s what you’re trying to accomplish, stop. “

    These parts of the play struck at the heart of my above perceptions. Zack was lying about so many things in order to create a version of their lives that might make Abby happy. Abby, on the other hand was frustrated by the need for happiness as an ingredient for a successful relationship or life. She struggled with the idea of happiness, and Zack was losing his happiness in the fight to find hers. Additionally, the story of Alioune and what happiness means to him and his family brought me to think further about the complexity of happiness. It also called to mind my personal struggles with defining happiness. As an immigrant, there’s this heightened pressure to seek stability and let happiness fall into place like a sort of side effect. I could see that idea flowing through Alioune and Amina’s lives. They are young immigrants with a family, a business, and no recollection of parental advice of aspiring to be happy in the future.

    All- in- all, the entanglement caused me to remember that life doesn’t always consist of a steady flow of happiness, but as a constant effort to find, define, and attempt to maintain it.

    Lastly, watching the play from an angle allowed me to observe the back- and-forth a little differently. I sat at the tail end of the left side of the theater. This means that I was on the side closer to the action, but I also saw everything from a side- view perspective. I felt like I had to strategically allocate my attention to understanding Abby and Zack as they each became more visible to me on stage. I think it gave me a chance to stop trying to look at the situation from both sides at once, but to dissect each character and their individual struggles with happiness, alone.

  12. Oh. My. God. This play. It’s been almost two days since we saw the production of Belleville and I am STILL feeling uneasy about it. Immediately after the play I had a range of feelings, from uneasiness, to feeling a lack of resolution, to a weird sort of jittery alertness. After the play we had a short discussion with the cast, and even then it was difficult for me to look at them as normal people instead of as the intense characters they portrayed onstage.
    There are several fairly obvious reasons why audience members might feel disturbed after watching this play. The biggest one for me was the toe scene. I’m not a big feet person, so all of the scenes that involved sucking on toes and slicing off toenails with a butcher knife was a little unsettling for me (and, by the reactions of the audience members, for them as well). Throughout the play it was clear to me that the husband, Zack, was hiding something from his wife, but I had no idea how far back his lies had originated and the extent to which they had developed. Zack claims that he lied about going to med school and having a job in Paris to protect Abby from her depression, but the resulting build up of deceit, stress, and guilt is ironically what ends up killing him in the end.
    One thing that stood out for me in this play was the use of sounds. In most plays that I have seen, when a character goes off stage to do something you usually can’t hear what it is that they’re doing (unless it is relevant to the people onstage). However, in this play you hear a lot of sounds that may or may not be relevant to the scene. For example the bathroom, although not able to see into from the audience, seems to be an important setting in this play. This is where Abby goes to take her warm therapeutic baths, once attempting to commit suicide, and where Zack succeeds to do so in the end. When the characters go offstage to take a bath or a shower, which happens fairly frequently, the audience can hear the water running from backstage. I liked this because it made the bathroom seem like a real part of the play – despite being out of view, we can still hear what is going on, so it seems to us that the character is still apart of the scene. Other sounds I noticed included the European ambulance sirens, the baby crying over the monitor, the music on the computer during the smoking scene, and the different ring tones of the characters. I’m not sure if all of these sounds have a purpose – the ringtones may be symbolic of the people that they depend on, or pretend to in Zack’s case, and the sirens might just suggest the urban environment that they live in – but they definitely made the play all the more captivating.

  13. Studio Theater’s production of Belleville was as thrilling as it was interesting. I’ve seen my fair share of exhilarating performances, and this was by far one of the best. The performance sought to relate to the everyday struggles of young couples while still captivating the audience. Throughout the first half of the play, the audience was left wondering how Zach and Abby’s marriage would unfold; would the young couple continue fighting and living in Belleville, or would they return to the United States? Or would they completely fall apart and leave each other? For a while, these were the most pressing issues; the play soon took a dark turn.

    Once the relationship between Abby and Zach soured, and once Zach’s life began to unravel, the dark, twisted thoughts of the young couple dominated the performance. The two actors did a tremendous job drawing in the audience, trading dark, murderous looks to each other. The dialogue between the two only enhanced the feel of the play, as it was so normal and relatable.

    Throughout the entire performance, I found myself amazed at how much I related to the simple fights of the young couple. The dialogue and little idiosyncrasies made me see much of myself in the beginning of the play. The relationship felt completely real and normal, drawing the audience further and further in. Amy Herzog did a tremendous job of setting up the story for its dramatic conclusion, effectively leading us to believe it was just another story about a rough new marriage. Unfortunately, that was not the case; we were drawn into a romantic story only to be led astray into a downward spiraling journey following a systematic liar and his chronically depressed wife.

  14. Amy Herzog’s Bellville provides an excellent portrayal of the confusion and mysteries surrounding growing up and wading into adulthood. While far more dramatic and thrilling than the experience of most, Herzog’s story, characters, and setting present both the trivialities and significant moments of young adulthood in a very palpable and rousing manner. I left the theater feeling nauseous and upset not because of the gory scenes and blood. Rather, it was the portrayal of confusions, misunderstandings, and mistakes that are all too real to many entering adulthood that left me feeling uneasy.

    One of my favorite lines in the play is when Abby says “I am so tired of this fucking pressure to be happy. I am not happy, okay, that’s just not my, like, mode of being, so if that’s what you’re trying to accomplish, stop” (26). Abby’s inability to go home and see her family and her powerlessness to move on from her mother’s death seem to be the most pressing issues in her life. However, at the end of the play, Abby seems to be facing far more issues than just those two. In fact, it seems that the only thing providing meaning and motivation for Abby is the birth of her sister’s baby. Beyond that, her whole life seems to be in a complete state of confusion and ambiguity.

    After Zack explains to her his missteps and lies during their relationship about medical school and his job, Abby explains that they are both really confused and need to move back home to sort their lives out. However, at the beginning of the play, we learned that Abby moved to Paris for almost exactly the same reason. It seems that her way of avoiding life’s issues is to make dramatic changes and life decisions. We see this in her drinking and her proposal to Zack. This is also presented to us throughout the play in Zack and Abby’s relationship. Their constant ups and downs and quick transitions from arguments to loving scenes hint that neither of them are very secure with their lives. In one of the first scenes, Abby shows her wedding photo book to Alioune. She jokes about the grandeur of the event and all of the decorations. It seems that even earlier in her relationship with Zack, Abby was trying to create something dramatic to cover up her own insecurities and uncertainty. Abby and Zack’s struggle to find clarity in their lives and relationship is something to which many young adults can relate.

    Amy Herzog’s play is on the surface very thrilling and exciting. Beneath the strife and gore, however, lies a much more unsettling story.

    • Gabbie,
      I really like your analysis of the relationship’s insecurities being covered up by dramatic changes and events. The wedding photos and Abby;s comments about them were the first major clue to that pattern that I didnt see, but after reading your comment I realized how perfectly it fit. The uneasiness was also something I left the theater with. I think as young people, we look at Zack and Abby, just a few years older than us, and wonder if that uncertainty is something we will still experience after we graduate and start careers and are supposed to have everything “figured out.” While I noticed so many older people in the audience, I can’t help but wonder if they connected on that level as well or if their generation “figured it out” better.

  15. Immediately following the conclusion of Belleville, I was not a fan of the play. I thought the play was too intense, as it attempted to fit too many emotional events into such a short period of time. I also did not understand the addiction to marijuana, the constant police sirens, or why they chose to utilize so much blood. However, the part I was most disappointed with was the portrayal of the two main characters, Abby and Zack, as Americans. I felt Abby and Zack’s behaviors gave young Americans a bad reputation compared to the immigrant family, Alioune and Amina, that lived near them. Abby and Zack moved to Paris following their marriage and Zack’s supposed graduation from medical school. In Paris, their relationship was unstable, built on a lie, and they did not seem to have their lives together, especially financially. However, Alioune and Amina appeared to have their life in place. Even though they were younger, they had children and owned a building management business. In my opinion, the play gave the impression that Americans are often irresponsible with their life choices, especially when they are young adults, while immigrants are making better choices in order to get their life together. It was not until after the play, while talking to the cast, that I realized this was the politics of the play. As I thought more about it, I realized that this is the way many people think about young Americans, and that it might be true. Some Americans are so used to having their life laid out in front of them by their parents, that when they finally graduate and are on their own, they have no idea how to handle it. They make irresponsible choices because they do not know better, and they just have to learn to deal with them or ask their parents for help. On the other hand, immigrants are often on their own and are forced to make decisions that they know will benefit them because they have nothing to fall back on. In the play, Abby was able to fall back on her parents, asking her dad to come help her, while Alioune and Amina had to just continue on with their life. The play was not offensive, it was just politics.

    • Meaghan, I felt the exact opposite of the portrayal of Abby and Zack’s portrayal as Americans abroad in the moment of watching the play. I felt this representation was not only accurate, but deeply important to the setting and positioning of the two characters. Their resistance to assimilation and their specific contrast to the coupling of Alioune and Amina reinforced the entitlement of Abby and Zack’s circumstances. In the midst of their American entitlement, including Abby’s initial desire to go to Paris and Zack’s subsequent fulfillment of this desire despite its harmful consequences, emphasized the role of Americans in today’s world who believe their lives, as the main actress put it, were supposed to have the same quality as their parents’ if not improve upon that quality of life. Americans have a skewed perspective of the world in this manner, that we take for granted our abilities to travel so freely to other countries (referring back to the moments where Abby and Zack were frustrated with the situation of their visas if they were to leave France), pursue lives with large degrees of autonomy and self-determination (unlike Alioune, who did not grow up being encouraged to do what he loved but what was necessary), and have wiggle-room that accommodates irresponsibility at young ages (Abby still is able to remain very dependent on her father and the couple was somehow able to move to Paris despite Zack not having a job).

      Yes – the portrayal of Abby and Zack did speak to politics. of the play and, for me, was a commentary about the entitlement we experience that – as it did in the play – seems to be easily forgotten by and even offensive to the audience because it isn’t easy to acknowledge our own privilege, and when we are faced with it, we sweep it under the rug so we do not have to confront it head-on.

    • Meaghan,

      I understand your point about Amy Herzog’s portrayal of the American couple in her play. I felt that there were numerous times during the play when Abby and Zach were simply being childish. Many times I thought that this couple was ridiculous and didn’t take care of their problems properly. I felt that the arguments were silly and were resolved by either having sex or just complete ignorance altogether. Compared with Zach and Abby, Amina and Alioune appear very well put together, mature and responsible. When watching the play, the audience could tell that they looked down upon Abby and Zach like misbehaved children and couldn’t trust them (which was very apparent especially after the scene when Zach broke into their apartment looking for weed). I’m not sure if Herzog intentionally wanted to make Americans look bad, but this play sure doesn’t make them look good.

  16. My life is stressful. Well, sometimes it is. Work can be hard, personal problems can pose a challenge, and everything else in between can just be frustrating. So, when I go out for a night on the town to watch a play, I want it to be relaxing. This play was not. However, whatever it lacked as a stress reducer, it made up for in quality. The play was an excellent and meticulous look into the everyday stresses of a modern day relationship. The lives of the characters may have been a little more dramatic than the average real life couple, but the play gave the audience insight into the complex dynamics that many couples go through. Being in a relationship myself, the play provided me some perspective on what can cause cleavages within a couple. Everyday stresses, combined with large life problems, can escalate and push people to their limits.

    Besides the actual conflicts within the couples themselves, the other part of the play that I found interesting was the origin of the characters. The landlord, a young hard working immigrant, managed a living space, had a wife, and had several children as well. Presumably an orphan, he started with so little in his life but worked hard to achieve what he has today. Even so, he keeps working hard and even wants to have another child. The main character, on the other hand, came from a good family, started his education at a great school, and conceivably should have a much better chance at a successful life. Even so, he is the one who ends up with the problems with his significant other, no job, and serious personal problems. It goes to show that even if you are given all the tools to succeed, it takes actual hard work and perseverance to succeed. The play was a masterpiece, and although stressful, it was an excellent look into the personal life of modern day people.

    • Stephen,

      Your comment about the stressfulness of the play and in life really resonated with me. It is hard for me when I am seeking entertainment to enjoy something that depicts a story much less pleasant than my real life. But I think a reason it strikes me so much is the parallels to real life. Though I’ve never had a relationship as bad as Abby and Zack’s, aspects of their fights mirrored fights I’ve had with people and made me feel horrible! In a way this is a comment on the power and impact of the play, meaning they did a great job–but at the same time I wish I hadn’t seen them do such a good job and had watched a happy uplifting play instead. I often feel like life is too short to feel so stressed and dwell on problems and not be enjoying myself. Though I agree that Belleville is an excellent look into modern people’s lives, for me personally that is exactly what I am not looking for when I seek out entertainment.

  17. Prior to speaking with the cast members of “Belleville” after the show, I thought the sirens played a significant role in informing the audience to be alert because some kind of “emergency” was around the bend. Each time the siren resonated there seemed to be some critical scene unfolding on stage.

    I kept thinking throughout the play as it began to crescendo that an ambulance would be arriving to Zach and Abby’s residence. I guess in a sense they did at the end.

    Although, I was drawn into every melodramatic scene from start to finish; I could not stop wondering about the absent actors. For example, why did Abby’s father need to call her as frequently as witnessed. Did he possibly know things were awry between his daughter and Zach, or was it mere concern for his daughter since there were so many family dynamics happening at once. Was he alarmed when finding out that Abbey’s Visa had not been approved in time for her sister’s baby arrival. Was there skepticism on the father’s part since Abbey was nearing thirty with no children and no bright future. My mind drifted as Abbey made the dreaded call to her father needing his help. I wondered if he was even surprised, and Abbey relieved that he was coming soon.

    The final scene jerked my emotions sharply because I wondered if Abbey went into immediate survival mode by saying exactly what Zach needed to hear her say after his confession. Afterall, I recall hearing an actor say that Zach called her a “good actor”, so did he know she was putting on a show or were her expressions of starting over genuine. I think for a moment he believed she actually cared, but quickly learned otherwise by her response to her father in their final conversation before Zach ended his life.
    Even though, the blood stains were not visible; I felt the blood stains dripping from both their bleeding hearts. I tensed up and twisted in my chair as the final scene between Zach and Abbey unfolds. I could feel the “alarm” ringing inside my gutt. The feelings that lingered as the story fades is that two broken people deeply cared for each other, but the expectations of others consumed every aspect of their relationship to the point of disaster.

    I also found it interesting that while we learn tidbits about Alioune and Amina, we know little to nothing about Zach’s family dynamics. I wanted to know what transpires in Zach’s life that he forgets to file for financial aid, and were there other lies that were found out by administrators when he failed an exam. Are the unspoken dynamics of Zach’s past the cause for his quick reply to Abbey’s rushed proposal. Does he spend his entire existance trying to compensate with Abbey for the love that had been absent in his life prior to Abbey’s arrival. Is he running away from something in his past to uproot Abbey from her family and move her to France solely on the premise that she had traveled there with her father. I think the cumulation of unspoken circumstances coupled by Abbey’s reaction to her father’s voice drained every ounce of hope he has for a fresh start.
    I even found myself wondering if Abbey married Zach to spite her mother because Charlie (I think this was the old boyfriend’s name) was someone her mother would have approved of for her daughter. I got the vibe that there was regret on Abbey’s part, and Zach knew it and found a way to cope. He states that Abbey can be unloveley, but he found a way. I tend to believe Abbey felt remorse that she made irrational decisions, and wonders what she has really gotten herself into with Zach because mentionof the old boyfriend comes up. I also think it possible that Abbey had alarms going off inside her head long before the truth about Zach was blaring in her face, but she ignored the signals and chose to live in the dark. She chose to play Zach’s games about needing psych meds until she had enough. I think those were warnings which made her long for her family and home.
    All of the actors were amazing in their perspective roles. I literally felt drawn up on stage and into their apartment, as if I were an invited guest. The actors, the French music, the audience and the sparatic sirens blaring lends credence to the playwright’s mastery to evoke raw emotion with the winding plot that leaves us all aghast in the closing scene.

  18. I love how you, Andrea, point out the closeness between Alioune and Amina (in contrast to that of Zach and Abbey) in the last scene when he tells his wife he is sorry. I could feel the strength of Alioune and Amina’s bond when they confront Zach for breaking into their apartment. I gathered that Alioune was not going to permit anything to come between he and his family, not even the brotherhood he shares with Zach.

  19. More from me — this time on Herzog’s “After The Revolution”

    The play on words, “After the Revolution” is brilliant, especially now that the reading is complete. Emma, the main character, idolizes her grandfather’s legacy as a hero, but is suddenly devastated when she learns of the patriarch’s involvement as a spy with Russia. She finds herself amidst a whirlwind of confusion about her life and purpose to carry out the legacy of her grandfather who meant so much to her.

    Emma’s father, Ben, shields his precious daughter’s heart from the secret ills of her grandfather, but the truth is inevitable since a book is being published with information unveiling his involvement with Russia as a spy. I think the metaphor of a book being published for money revealing deceptions about her idol is interesting in relation to the millions Emma raises for her foundation to save innocent victims. I think this is where the internal conflict stirs.

    I see a reoccurring theme in these stories between “Yentl”, “Abbey” and now “Emma” in that they all have a strong bond with their father’s. However, when unforeseen circumstances unravel the tightness of that bond, and they are forced to face the truth about life absent of their father’s perspectives—they seem lost. Emma lives to make her father proud. She is prized over that of her rehabilitating sister, Jess, because she is accomplishing amazing feats to save innocent lives through her foundation to free innocent victims falsely accused of crimes. Emma’s character provides the reader with a sense of personal purpose as the script opens, but defeat quickly ensues as the story unfolds.

    Seemingly, her entire identity (or at least what she has believed up to this point) fades into obscurity just about the time when everything in her life is at a high. She deals with the stereotypes associated with dating a Spanish speaking boyfriend by her family who is desperately trying to make him feel comfortable. She is faced with the reality that her heroic grandfather is actually a spy, and the conflict associated with her foundation. She faces the possible break up with her boyfriend because of her indecisiveness regarding the next steps for the foundation. She wrestles with the moral code of conduct since her foundation is named in honor of her grandfather. She worries about her reputation, then finds a way to be vulnerable to father again.

    I love her fortitude to return to her father and admit how she felt after being blinded from the truth about her grandfather. Like a child, she read off a list of things troubling her, which I found symbolic because Emma needs structure in order to function well. The moment “crisis” struck, she began falling apart. I am glad she found inner courage to reach out to her boyfriend, Miguel, the donor (name), her sister and her father’s wife, Mel because she discovers another aspect of herself that was not eaisly visible before the alarming news of her grandfather’s ties with Russia.

    I think Emma learns several startling lessons. The one most prominent in my mind is that whenever life sideswipes without warning, and the blow comes from someone you love and absolutely trust, find forgiveness and keep growing. I appreciate how this powerful woman knew how to step in the shadows and let Miguel shine as she is making the necessary adjustments to understand everything that has drastically changed. I think the moral derived here is that we cannot go through life excepting everything we are expected to believe. We have to learn to confront conflict in a respectful manner, and be open to the transformations which will inevitably arise. Even if we have embraced dogmatic views on how a perfect life is perceived, we must lay aside our fiery attitudes, jaded perspectives, generational ignorances in search for the truth. The truth can only be revealed through honest communication, especially when it hurts like h-ll.

  20. Belleville’s setting in a working class, diverse neighborhood of Paris (an area called Belleville mostly encompassing the 20th arondissement in the outskirts of the city) is a theme that subtly enhances the more prominent issues in the play. I think that this strategic choice of location is extremely important, but could also easily go un-noticed.
    The setting in Belleville is hardy ever addressed directly. It comes up in an early scene when Abby is talking to Alioune, “And I especially love this neighborhood, I love the – um, well I hate the word ‘diversity,’…. but, you know, there’s a lot of life here… and it’s nice not being the only, um, foreigners, you know, feeling like we are among others making a life in this sometimes hostile…”
    It is obvious to us in the audience that Abby is trying to shed a positive light on living in a low-income immigrant neighborhood in Paris. It is also alluded to when Abby tells Alioune how the men in Paris give her trouble, and when we frequently hear sirens in the background. The fact that Abby doesn’t seem to have a successful job (no one shows up for her yoga class) and that Zack doesn’t turn out to have a real job at all clues us in that they are probably not living the high life in Paris.
    A huge theme in this play is romanticized ideas being broken down. We see that in Abby and Zack’s marriage, which we gradually see crumble before us. Another is Zack’s education and career, which he has elaborately fabricated and turns out to not be true. In this way, Paris makes the perfect setting: An idealized place that many people dream of. But the realities of being a low-income immigrant there that we see in Belleville shatter this idealization. The fact that even in Paris this couple could not escape their problems shows just how deeply they run, and that pretending to live an ideal life could not free them of these deep-seated issues.

    • I agree with that the setting is important to understanding the play in its entirety, but I wish it had been more prominent. You can’t always rely on the audience doing their research and figuring out what kind of neighborhood Abby and Zack were living in or even that the play was named after that neighborhood. Personally, I felt that because the Parisian background wasn’t as fully realized, it could have taken place anywhere. Amy Herzog obviously chose this setting very carefully, but I wish I could have seen more of that in the actual show.

  21. For this play, my feelings align with the common sentiment of the class. Coming into the play, I had no idea what it would be about or even who the characters were so this play took me completely by surprise. Throughout the play I was sitting at the edge of my seat anxious to see what would happen next and there was never a dull moment.

    One part of the play that truly hit home was in the beginning where Abby and Alioune were talking and introducing the audience to their characters. Abby was very surprised that Alioune was only 25, married with children and had his own business. She asked Alioune “when you were little, did your parents intone, over and over, “It doesn’t matter what you do when you grow up as long as you’re happy?” To this, he replied no. As the child of immigrants, this reply wasn’t surprising to me.

    My parents were born into poor families and worked extremely hard to get to where they are today. As a result, they have always instilled in me the importance of hard work and education. They never really allowed me to defer from that path and try something different. They tell me that ultimately I should pursue a good career (such as a lawyer or a doctor) that will take care of me and my future family. Consequently, I can definitely understand Alioune’s background and response to the question.

    Another aspect of the play was the differences in the dynamics of the relationships between the two couples. Alioune and Amina seemed to plan ahead and think about what was best for both of them. They came off as wiser and more mature because their decisions benefited both of them (although it was mainly Amina making the wise decisions). Zack and Abby’s relationship was more explosive, with both of them attempting suicide and one succeeding. They would make decisions based on what the other would like and not what would benefit both of them. Although their relationship was very destructive, it appeared as though they needed each other.

    • Very insightful comments Udechukwu. The contrast between Zach and Abby’s relationship and Amina and Alioune’s is certainly stark. I like that you mentioned that Alioune and Amina plan to do what is best for both of them, and not necessarily just one. That was a big part of what frustrated me about Zach and Abby. I could see why Zach had chosen to move to Paris and convince Abby he had a good job, because he thought it was best for her. But in doing so he took all the responsibility for the rent, the lie, and Abby’s depression. It appears to be a selfless decision, but I think ultimately it came down to a lack of maturity and inability to communicate.

  22. This play was both unsettling and engrossing in equal measure. I was surprised that a show could stir up so much anxiety, but it got to the point where I was incredibly uncomfortable even hours after the curtain call. I thought long and hard about the source of my anxiety and I believe the insights the actors shared answered that. The presentation of a young American couple living near Paris is romantic; upon reading the description of the play my mind immediately pictured a sweet little Disney Pixar scene of a young couple meandering through Paris. What Belleville gave instead was a realistic telling of the state of Millennials and what we have come to accept as part of life. With such high divorce rates our generation has become skeptical of the happily married lifestyle. With the economic crash and general decline, we have a painful understanding that there is no guarantee of financial success. Our generation faces a changing world and has no certainty that it will be a better one. Yet despite all this, Abby and Zack press on and try to make it work.
    They go to Paris in hopes that a fresh start in the City of Love or Lights (whichever one) will allow them to move forward. In Paris in their lovely little apartment, things will be better. This is the internal mantra that runs in their minds the whole play, reflected in their body language and their actions. As things became strained and progressed further and further downhill, the desperation to keep this mantra bubbled up to the surface: Zack’s desperate searches for more drugs, Abby’s drunkeness, Zack’s financial mistakes, Abby’s suicide attempt, Zack’s deceit, Abby’s desperation, and finally Zack’s suicide. All of this played out in that idyllic little apartment in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The realization that our problem will follow us is what I finally admitted to be the source of my anxiety from the play. Abby and Zack should have been happy there, but there is just no guarantee of happiness.

  23. This show made me incredibly nervous from the minute it started. Before the plot really started to take off, the awkwardness of the dialogue had my focus. In the first scene when Abby comes home, Zach hops in the shower, and Aliune walks in to smoke with Zach the tension was high and we still didn’t know what kind of problems any of these people had. At first I liked Abby. While listening to her try to talk to Aliune, she was clearly feeling insignificant and unsuccessful compared to her younger and more put together landlord. However, listening to her train wreck again and again while trying to take to him, using references he wouldn’t understand, offering him christmas cookies, and getting so anxious about each of these mistakes that it was impossible to feel too bad for her.

    Though the toe nail and the knife that was constantly floating around towards the second half of the play were stress inducing, the dialogue was really what made much of the play cringe-worthy for me. Not always in a bad way, for example in the first scene of the play as I discussed above, the dialogue really connected me to the feelings of the characters. There were definitely times that the language didn’t seem to fit. For instance, that Zach and Abby called each other “homie” never really convinced me.

    Overall, I can’t say that I enjoyed this play. I felt stressed out the entire time, and left continuing to feel so. It was nice to be able to meet the actors afterwards and talk about their feelings of leaving the character’s emotions in the studio, because I think that helped me do so as well. However, simply because I didn’t have a great time while watching the play didn’t mean it wasn’t good, I thought it was extremely well done and much of the writing was amazing.

  24. Mental illness played a huge role in this play, whether you picked up on it or not. Abby, obviously, had some issues that were a point of contention within her marriage. Zach seemed to have a overall issue with her history of depression and suicide attempts, so much so that he kept bringing them up. I never really saw this as evidence that he cared about her, but more as an attempt of his to bring up evidence of her unhappiness. We found out at the end of the play that this might have been because he was looking for an easy way out of Paris without arising suspicion, but I suspect something a little deeper.

    I would like to suggest that Zach had some serious mental health issues that he might not have been aware of. His behavior, including the shady way he covered up his job loss, his rapid temper and mood changes, and his over dependence on marijuana suggest to me that there was something deeper going on than just feeling a little lost in life. Of course, the ending seems to confirm this pretty well, but I was surprised that no one brought it up after the play. In fact, when a question was asked about the amount of smoking seen on stage, the actors brushed it off as a mere character flaw, nothing more.

    I feel like a lot of focus was shone on Abby and her role in the play, perhaps because of her amount of time onstage, but I would like to look a little further into Zach. After all, he was the catalyst for a lot of the action that happened on stage, and to be sure, the actually play itself. It was his “job” and decisions that took them to Paris in the first place.

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