In Amy Herzog’s 2013 Millennial drama Belleville, which opens at Obsidian Theater this Friday, and co-produced by Firecracker Productions, young love is stretched to its boundaries, highlighted by torrential love and devastating jealousy. Zack and Abby live a seemingly idyllic life as young, hip American expats in Belleville, an even more hip Parisian neighborhood. But despite appearances, the bloom is off the rose for the two lovebirds.
“At its core, Belleville is about two people desperately trying to save themselves and, in the process, drowning each other. The image that comes to mind is two people...desperately clinging to each other and trying to use the other to get back up,” says Kelsey McMillan, who directs the Houston premiere.
McMillan’s metaphor is appropriate. “Zack and Abby got together when they were very young. Abby was going through a time of crisis. Her mother was dying and Zack was the lifeboat for her.”
Fast-forward a few years and Abby, an actress–turned–yoga instructor, is now more self-sufficient. Afraid of her newfound independence, Zack, a member of Doctors Without Borders, has erected a defensive wall of self-aggrandizing lies around himself and Abby. “His fear of losing her has caused him to try to put her into situations where she still needs saving,” notes McMillan.
Alioune and Amina, a stalwart French couple, serve as Zack and Abby’s foil. Though the couple, younger than Zack and Abby, have two children and are Senegalese and Muslim in the French capital, they handle relationships and life with much more poise than their American counterparts.
“They show two people who are hardworking, and responsible and also have a very loving and respecting relationship. They aren’t super lovey-dovey, but you can see that they respect each other, that they trust each other, that they had a foundation before there was a marriage or relationship.”
For McMillan, Alioune and Amina bring reprieve from Zack and Abby’s dysfunction and self-inflicted anguish. “I love [Alioune and Amina’s] existence in this world … If it were just Zack and Abby all the time, it would be hard to watch. But they give it the lightness that it needs. Seeing two people who are functioning as proper adults gives you a moment of rest.”
And in a world of deceit, they stand for the truth. Whereas Zack is incapable of the truth, Alioune is forthright and open. And Amina is discerning. “Amina is the only one in the whole play who immediately knows what’s going on. She can see through all of the lies.”
Though difficult theater, McMillan contends that it is also compelling theater. “The audience will leave the theater feeling like they’ve just been hit by a slow moving truck.”
December 4–19. $10–20. Obsidian Theater, 3522 White Oak. 832-889-7837. obsidiantheater.org