Relationships, as more than one sage has remarked, are hard. They’re especially hard if the two involved in the relationship don’t really know each other, in spite of a seemingly comfortable surface patter.
Case in point: the couple at the heart of Amy Herzog’s Belleville, now playing in an FSU/Asolo Conservatory production. Her pair, Abby (Zoya Martin) and Zack (Peter Raimondo), may seem to be living a good life in the Paris neighborhood of the title, but there are many surprises—unpleasant ones—to be discovered here.
It starts when Abby, a onetime actress turned yoga teacher, returns to their apartment early after a class where no one shows up. She thinks that Zack, her husband and a doctor working on a noble cause, is at work but, no—he’s actually watching porn in the bedroom. That’s a bit of a nasty shock, but one she’s willing to plaster over.
She’s also willing to tolerate the liberal smoking of marijuana Zack does with their French Senegalese landlord Alioune (Jerald Wheat), who lives in the same building with his wife Amina (Dreaa Kay Baudy) and their young children. But she’s going to have a harder time dealing with big inconsistencies in Zack’s stories about his job and finances, at the same time she’s missing her father and pregnant sister back home in the States. It’s a lot, especially considering she’s chosen this moment to go off her meds for depression and anxiety. And you just know things are going to go from bad to worse when that big kitchen knife shows up...
Herzog’s tale is deliberately slow to build, with bits of info trickling out gradually and sometimes apparently irrelevantly. There’s an atmosphere of some comedy early on, but that changes as we realize just how immature this couple is, and how stranded they are, especially compared to their more grounded Senegalese neighbors. Abby doesn’t speak French, she’s still dealing with the death of her mother, and she gets seriously drunk (and sick) one night. That’s when Zack takes away her cell phone to keep her from making drunken calls...or so he says.
Working under the direction of Jesse Jou, Martin and Raimondo have a plausible dynamic onstage, with their attempts to pretend nothing is wrong becoming increasingly hard to maintain. Wheat and Baudy, in smaller roles, are likewise convincing as people who don’t want to be dragged into the mess of Abby and Zack. And Herzog’s script, coming in at a pretty taut 100 minutes (with no intermission) gives us enough to grasp the situation without making it drag on.
It’s an exercise in tension as the evening proceeds, and might make some in the audience wonder just how well they know themselves, and their partners.
Belleville continues through Jan. 23 in the Cook Theatre. For tickets, call (941) 351-8000 or visit asolorep.org.