The veil drops, the mask slips, true colors emerge; we have many expressions for the terrible moment when someone close to us becomes a stranger. How could I not have seen? This question is mutual for Amy and Zack, the twentysomething American couple at the center of Third Rail's new production of Amy Herzog's Belleville.
At first, the two seem benign, their relationship unexceptional, their Parisian expat life boho-perfect, right down to their chic professions (she's a yoga instructor, he's with Doctors Without Borders). Then things crumple, just a bit, with revelations of financial duress, personal baggage, medications. Sure, we think: that's life, nobody's perfect. But in Belleville, when the mask finally slips, the people revealed aren't just strange—they're both skin-crawlingly awful, evoking your worst memory of creeping physical danger.
Yup—we know not the evil that lurks in the hearts of men (and yoga instructors). If this sounds like your cup of poison, then Third Rail's Belleville delivers. As Amy and Zack, Portland favorites Isaac Lamb and Rebecca Lingafelter mold their faces into a carnivalesque battery of mixed expressions; their shared pet name (which, rather unfortunately, is "homie") signifies first preciousness, then manipulation, then desperation.
As the couple's landlords, Alouine (Ricardy Fabre) and Amina (Chantal DeGroat) play it straight. They are, maybe, who we believe we are: reasonably trusting, relatively kind, fairly self-reliant. In no world of theirs would the escalating violence of Amy and Zack's relationship make sense. And indeed, in the final scene, there is nothing to say—for these reasonable people, what passed in that perfect Paris flat is madness best forgotten.
Easier said than done; I emerged from the theatre as speechless as Alouine and Amina, and just as ready to forget. Yet despite the play's more frustrating narrative quirks and devices—the opening gambit that goes nowhere (Zack caught watching porn), the brandished butcher knife, the regrettable nickname and yuppy trappings—as an emotional experience, it's been difficult to shake. With Belleville, Herzog efficiently taps primal fear, and Lamb and Lingafelter bring it home. Quite. Literally.
Third Rail Repertory
Thru April 18 at CoHo Theatre