Guys! You’ve gotta see this set! I know it’s a potentially terrible statement to begin a theatre review. It’s not as bad as it seems. Honestly, I just desperately want to live in the bohemian apartment in Pasadena Playhouse’s west coast premiere of Amy Herzog’s play Belleville. Bravo to the scenic designer, David Meyer.
Ok, let’s get to the juicy stuff. Belleville had it’s world premiere at the Yale Rep late 2011. Amy Herzog, playwright, is a Pulitzer finalist and Obie award winner. She’s cool and that’s always promising. The show takes place “mid-December of the recent past” in an artsy neighborhood in Paris. Abby and Zack (Anna Camp and Thomas Sadoski) are newlywed expats who seems to have a pretty darn perfect life. Zack is in Paris on business with an admirable job for Doctors Without Borders treating kids with AIDS. One afternoon Abby unexpectedly arrives home early from teaching yoga to find her husband there as well. This wasn’t a happy surprise and we slowly begin to realize the perfect marriage in the perfect Parisian village and their perfect life… isn’t. The press materials all call this show a Hitchcock-style drama, and I think that is a bit of an overstatement. But it isn’t clear what is going on exactly nor how it’s all going to end up.
Let it be said that I’m often skeptical of film/TV stars on stage. I understand the need to fill seats and theatres in LA (and yes, other cities) have found a solution in hiring recognizable names. Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect, True Blood) and Thomas Sadoski (Life in Pieces, The Newsroom) are not just pretty TV names/faces, they are Broadway veterans and are quite good in this show. The supporting cast was solid as well. We meet Alioune (Moe Jeufy-Lamour) the building manager and his wife, Amina (Sharon Pierre-Louis). The play seems to be in the capable hands of Jenna Worsham (YAY, girl power!). It’s a 100-ish minute no intermission show and it moves right along. It held my attention… but not with Alfred Hitchcock- like suspense. Who’s responsible for that, anyway?
So why aren’t I gushing? I want to gush! The truth is, I loved the set but didn’t love anything else, at least nearly as much. That’s a problem. First and foremost, the show didn’t pass the “so what?” test. I wasn’t overly entertained or intrigued. It was a good story, it wasn’t a great story. I wasn’t challenged, I didn’t learn anything and I wasn’t outraged or offended. In my book, that’s a failed night at the theatre. I think the entertainment option was the most likely to succeed, but I feel pretty neutral about that value as a whole. I didn’t leaving wanting those 100 minutes back. I did, however leave thinking the build in suspense to the break didn’t happen. I left wondering what the last 5 minute scene spoken all in French between the building manager and his wife was for and if I would have felt differently if I knew what they were saying. Odd, anticlimactic way to end the show. It couldn’t have made a difference, so why was it included? Unless it did? I may be a victim of an obscure ending shading the whole show. Maybe the build in tension/suspense will improve over the run and it will, indeed, live up to the Hitchcock hype. Whatever the case may be, I left mildly disappointed with a show I had great hopes for.
I’m thrilled the Pasadena Playhouse made it past dark days and is alive and kicking. I forgot how charming that theatre is. And despite my mild disappointment, I’d still recommend grabbing a seat. Take your French/English dictionary and mid level expectations and you might just have a enjoyable evening.
39 S. El Molino Ave, Pasadena
8 pm Wednesdays-Fridays, 2 & 8 pm Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays.
Ends May 13
Tickets: Prices start at $25
626-356-7529 or www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org