‘Belleville’ Artistically Portrays a Complex Relationship

Colgate students performed this drama, featuring three sophomores as the stars. 

From February 8 to February 12, Colgate University Theater performed the play “Belleville” by Amy Herzog at Brehmer Theater in the Dana Arts Center. “Belleville” was commissioned by the Yale Repertory Theatre and was first performed publicly in October 2011.

Directed by Adrian Giurgea, the Colgate performance starred sophomore Tariro Chinyanganya as Abby, junior Jonathan Burton as Zack, sophomore AB Sanogo as Alioune and sophomore Fiona Boateng as Amina. 

The plot centered on Zack and Abby, two young Americans who live a seemingly perfect expatriate life in Belleville, Paris. Zack refers to himself as a medical school graduate on a mission to fight pediatric AIDS. However, after Abby finds Zack home from work early, she becomes confused as to why he wasn’t at work. As the landlord Alioune presses Zack to repay his four months of overdue payments, it is soon revealed that Zack has also kept this debt a secret from Abby.

“I thought the production was fantastically creepy and captivating. The two leads in particular were incredibly talented and did a great job of capturing the depth and complexity of their characters,” sophomore Iona McLean said. 

With a rotating circular stage very closely surrounded by the audience, the play was truly an immersive audience experience. The set design created the effect of the audience sitting in the same rooms as the characters, as if closely intertwined in their lives.

“Not only was the acting impressive, but the spinning set and intimate black box atmosphere added to the mystery and tension of the production,” McLean said.

Even though Zack and Abby are initially happy living in France, Abby begins to miss her family more each day, especially as her sister is expecting a child. Even a small injury turns into something unmanageable for Abby, and the impending stress and secrets of Zack not paying his landlord become too much for Abby to handle. On one occasion, she even tries to drown herself.

Although acting and set design are some of the most conspicuous parts about plays, nothing would be possible or appreciated without lighting. First-year student Haoqi Xia was responsible for the lighting design in “Belleville.” 

“This play means so much to me; it was the first play for which I designed the lighting, and the first play at Colgate in which the stage rotates. Designing lighting for ‘Belleville’ has been a real challenge. Because the stage constantly moves throughout the show, it is impossible to light a single area without lighting the other portion of the stage. I could only alter the color of the light and light intensity, not so much positioning and special directions of the light. I tried to use cooler colors, such as blue, from the right, left and front side of the stage to resemble the natural daylight and use yellow lights for the stage center, imitating the artificial room light,” Xia said.

The show was interesting from a psychological perspective. Even though the

beginning of the play introduces the couple as having a stable relationship, Abby’s anxiety and weaning herself off her medication hint at emotional instability and trust issues between the two of them. Eventually, the tension culminates in Zack committing suicide in the shower while Abby is on the phone with her father.

“Matching the mood of the play has been an essential part of designing lighting. I adjust the light subtly so that it creates a ‘psychological’ effect. For instance, in the scene when Abby tries to drown herself, I lowered the light intensity and used a pale color tone in general to match the despair and fear that Abby experiences,” Xia said.

Although the relationship between Zack and Abby was flawed and turbulent, it was a complex relationship. In their hearts, they truly did want to be patient and understanding of each other’s intentions. An overarching theme of the play was that relationships and life situations are not all that they may seem on the surface. Although the inner workings of one’s mind are often very convoluted, “Belleville” illustrates how the best thing we can do for each other is offer support, patience, honesty and understanding.