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Donmar’s Belleville: Messy Entitled Millennials Brilliantly Living Too Large in Paris

Donmar’s Belleville: Messy Entitled Millennials Brilliantly Living Too Large in Paris
At first I envied these two. Living abroad, in Paris of all places, young, married and in love. Looked pretty good to me, at least in the first minutes of Amy Herzog’s devastating play, Belleville, but then the seams started to show the strain of this exact privileged life. This life that, at first resembled bliss was being pulled apart. Unknown stresses started to add up, and like a fine woven sweater, this piece of warmth wasn’t going to be able to withstand the tension it was under. Eventually, the pulling would unravel it all. The question I guess that remained, is what would it all look like in the end.
Imogen Poots (Abby) & James Norton (Zack) in Belleville at the Donmar Warehouse, director Michael Longhurst, designer Tom Scutt. Photo by Marc Brenner (3)
Imogen Poots, James Norton. Photo by Marc Brenner.
These two actors, directed with precision by Michael Longhurst (Royal Court/Broadway’s Constellations) have the difficult task of being everything that the term ‘millennials’ represents while also somehow pulling us into their complicated and very entitled lives.  Married young, possibly for the very awful and only reason of giving a dying mother a wedding of a daughter, Imogen Poots (West End’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) as the struggling Abby and James Norton (Royal Court’s Posh) as the complex Zack are exacting in their depiction of these two.  Both immensely difficult but loving, they play off each other’s dysfunctions like pros, swerving and dodging emotional outbursts and passive aggressiveness with aplomb.  On that close-quartered stage, designed to perfection by Tom Scutt (King Charles III) with lighting by Natasha Chivers (Playhouse/Hudson’s 1984), the realness of that roller coaster ride of an evening that includes drunkenness, blood, and vomit is without a doubt one finely staged interaction (movement director: Imogen Knight; fight director: Kate Waters). Their complete investment in their childish fantasy of a relationship is both technically impressive, and poetically powerful to behold.
Malachi Kirby (Alioune) & James Norton (Zack) in Belleville at the Donmar, directed by Michael Longhurst, designed by Tom Scutt. Photo by Marc Brenner
Malachi Kirby, James Norton. Photo by Marc Brenner.
Balancing out these two narcissistic characters Herzog gives us, as their landlords, a kind and engaging Senegalese-Frenh couple, thrust into the perpetual drama of these two oblivious creatures. Played magnificently by Faith Alabi (Print Room’s Trouble in Mind) and Malachi Kirby (Young Vic’s The Realness) they ingest some human compassion into the mix, although the real power of these two come in the final moments of Herzog’s play, when these two summarize in French what true coupledom really looks like. Simply and solidly.
Malachi Kirby (Alioune) & Faith Alabi (Amina) in Belleville at the Donmar, directed by Michael Longhurst, designed by Tom Scutt. Photo by Marc Brenner
Malachi Kirby, Faith Alabi. Photo by Marc Brenner.
Originally produced at the New York Theatre Workshop in March, 2013, Belleville delicately manages to walk the tightrope between condemnation and celebration. The second to last scene struck me as overly simplistic and detached when I’m guessing the goal was the opposite.  Herzog always seems to wow us with a quiet emotional engagement as she did in the beautifully crafted Mary Jane, earlier this year at the NYTW, rather than knock us over the head with forced melodrama like she does here.  The fate of these two millennials feels a bit too broad to make the final punch hurt as much as it should, but the vulnerability and the desperation to appease, even when stitched inside of lies stacked on top of lies rings completely true.  That is what we are left with; the nagging feeling of a generation struggling to rise above their own messiness and selfishness, attached but detached, living a fantasy life, this time in Paris.
Imogen Poots (Abby) & James Norton (Zack) in Belleville at the Donmar Warehouse, director Michael Longhurst, designer Tom Scutt. Photo by Marc Brenner (2)
Imogen Poots, James Norton. Photo by Marc Brenner.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Out of Town
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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