I think that Washington Post critic Peter Marks got it right: Amy Herzog’s “Belleville”, now at Washington’s Studio Theatre, leaves you “a bit creeped out but less than sufficiently gripped”. Zack and Abby are newly married Americans living in Paris, where Zack has a job helping to eradicate pediatric AIDS. But each is more neurotic than the other, their marriage was clearly a colossal mistake, and things obviously have to change. They do, and for the worst, and what starts out as a fairly typical “can’t we just get along and start from scratch” romantic comedy into a sophomoric horror story, where everything leads to something more unsettled. Surely, Herzog (and Studio) can do better.
What’s the back story? It appears that Abby has suffered from serious psychological problems from the day she and Zack first met, and his goal has been to do everything possible to make his wife as secure and as happy as possible (this turns out to be a hopeless task, of course) but his codependency turns out to be largely a manifestation of his own (possibly even more serious) neurosis, which comes out of the proverbial closet leading to unimaginable tragedy. But the play lacks verisimilitude (after starting as a believable story of just another troubled couple) as Zack’s actions are based on years of major deception, a scale of deception that just cannot be believed.
I saw one other Herzog play, also at Studio, “4000 Miles”, a year or so ago. A young man stops to stay with his grandmother (an unrepentant Marxist, as I recall) on his bike tour across the country. He and his grandmother come from different worlds – their lack of previous contact, and the nature of their unexpected contact now, left me cold.
Both these plays have received some strong reviews – but I guess that they are just not for me.