A View from the Cliff: “Belleville” unmasks ugliest Americans

Playwright Amy Herzog’s Belleville is a “beautiful town” in France. But the people and events she unmasks are far from beautiful. What begins as a comedy of miscommunications on stage at Brooklyn College’s New Workshop Theater plunges into a shocking story of deception and destruction.

Young Abby (Lisa Campbell) and Zack (Miklos Nemeth) have moved to France from the United States. They’ve barely known each other before marrying. Alioune (Chakeefe Gordon), the landlord, seems to be good friends with Zack. It could be the start of a classic sitcom. But it isn’t. No, not at all.

Director Eric D. Ort masterfully leads us into this web of misdirection. The Americans are convincing as very immature 20-somethings. Their secrets are far darker than we could have expected. Alioune and his wife Amina (Tanyamaria McFarlane) are more responsible. But it is difficult to anticipate their reactions fully.

Only French music plays before opening curtain. Only French is spoken before the final blackout. The story is clearly unfolding in a foreign country, but who are the strangers? The Frenchman Alioune delivers many of his lines with his back to the audience. He is intentionally less visible than the Americans. Ms. McFarlane’s role is the least developed. At least we understand that she is a patient mother and wife.

Ms. Campbell is convincing as a fragile, naïve young woman who never should have left her family. Her extreme emotional issues accelerate with violent consequences. With skill, she remains a sympathetic character.

Nemeth as husband Zack intentionally shuns our respect from his first embarrassing appearance onstage. His behavior grows more bizarre and yes, frightening. Is he to blame for his wife’s self-destructive behavior or does she trigger it in him?

The set (design by Donghyuk Chang) contains mundane tables, chairs and a sofa with an old fashioned radiator “downstage right.” Just like the main characters, they seem normal. But the sofa is slanted away from the apartment’s expected angles. Somehow, this unbalance adds to the disquiet we feel as the characters deteriorate before our eyes.

Kudos to behind-the-scenes support from Joshua Chase Gold (stage manager),Isabelle Parzygnat (costume design), Omayra Garriga Casiano (lighting design) and AJ Surasky (sound design).

For information on this and future productions from the Brooklyn College Department of Theater, check its website at http://depthome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/theater/ or call the box office at 718-951-4500. As always, save me a seat on the aisle.

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