Review: Belleville (The Company Theatre/Canadian Stage)

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The Company Theatre presents Allan Hawco in Amy Herzog’s play Belleville at Toronto’s Berkeley Street Theatre

I’ve always been perplexed by people who marry in their early twenties. When you’re young, naïve, insecure and haven’t spent enough time figuring out who you really are or what you really want, isn’t it sort of an inadvisable time to get hitched? Belleville, produced by Company Theatre and Canadian Stage, is a new play by American playwright Amy Herzog which looks at the repercussions of settling down before finding yourself.

Belleville (the title refers to a neighbourhood in Paris, not the town in Ontario) sees the return of Newfoundland-born actor and Company Theatre co-founder Allan Hawco to the stage after a five-year hiatus for his successful CBC television series Republic of Doyle.

Hawco plays Zack, a young American expat doctor working in Paris with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders on a research project for the eradication of pediatric AIDS. When Zack’s wife Abby (Christine Horne) comes home in the middle of the day and unexpectedly finds Zack masturbating to internet porn when he’s supposed to be at work their seemingly perfect lives begin to unravel and a dense web of deception and lies is revealed.

While the press materials refer to the style of the show as “Hitchcockian” I don’t think the production entirely succeeds at hitting that benchmark. I was trying to figure out whether it was the production, performances or the script that I had issues with and I think all three had some shortcomings.

I found director Jason Byrne’s pacing of the show slow. While the script does call for a bit of a languid, slow burn to create a cloud of suspense, the execution came off as low-energy and I thought parts of the show dragged as a result.

I also thought the performances felt tentative. While Hawco and Horne work very hard to sell us on these characters and the idea that their relationship is disintegrating I found their performances lacked a sense of urgency. I felt Hawco in particular struggled to find the right tone for his character; Zack turns abruptly near the end of the show where it would have been more effective to gradually shift the character’s behaviour to build suspicion.

Horne is more effective at conveying her character’s struggles with mental health and addiction issues but I thought her performance often upstaged Hawco’s more subtle Zack.

Dalmar Abuzeid and Marsha Regis round out the cast turning in fine performances as Zack’s landlord Alioune and his wife Amina.

Herzog’s script is deliciously dark and a thoughtful examination of a relationship in crisis but it starts to meander in the middle and at times I thought to myself, “wherever this is going, it’s taking a long time getting there.” The long middle section of the show where Zack and Amy’s relationship starts to come apart at the seams really relies on the performances and direction to build the right amount of tension and set the right tone otherwise it comes off as banal.

The production is helped by the work of the design team. Costume and set designer Yannik Larivee created a wonderfully off-kilter apartment where everything is decorated in shades of blue. Clever lighting cues by Kevin Lamotte re-create time lapses with finesse and Richard Feren’s sound design paints the picture for off-stage action in vivid detail with sound.

While Belleville aims to be a suspenseful thriller about the disintegration of a relationship I don’t think it hit all the right notes to really pop.

Details:

  • Belleville is playing from April 16 to May 4, 2014 at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley Street)
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.
  • Tickets $22 – $49
  • Tickets are available in person at the venue box office, by phone at 416-368-3110 or online at companytheatre.ca or canadianstage.com.

Photo of Christine Horne and Allan Hawco by Guntar Kravis.

One thought on “Review: Belleville (The Company Theatre/Canadian Stage)”

  1. I agree with your review, except it is rather “kind;” in the way one might review a school play and applaud the effort. This production really is poor and does not come off. You are left speculating whilst the play is in progress, what it is that isn’t working. There is no suspense aside from a mild interest in who might stick the knife in who; the two principal characters as presented are so dissonant it is hard to imagine them being together;your observation on pacing is correct in that the middle of the play simply meanders. And the ending where Hawco morphs from a reasonably robust, porn watching charlatan, to a suicide, would be almost laughable if you had not already lost interest. How this can be described as a suspenseful thriller beggars belief.

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