My visit to Dobama Theatre was a triple dose of entertainment. First, a pre-show talk hosted by Artistic Director Nathan Motta, featuring guest director Corey Atkins. Secondly, the profound and disturbing drama Belleville by Amy Herzog. And finally, the actors return to the stage for a post-show talkback with the audience. Atkins was very engaging, as he revealed his theatrical journey. Presently, he is the Assistant Producer at the Cleveland Play House (CPH), handling local auditions, and the Inside CPH program. He reviewed his directing process through visual images, research, historical and psychological character analysis, and then culminating with the ultimate process of collaboration. Addressing the playwright Amy Herzog, we learn that she is considered by the industry as one of the best at “creating natural dialogue.” With a Chekhovian influence on characterization, Atkins holds true to the superlative that “the voice of the playwright is the most important voice.” Motta, announces that this is the first production of the first season as a full equity house. What an exciting professional gift to our theatre community, and to continuing the dream of the first Artistic Director Donald Bianchi.
Speaking of a gift, this production of Belleville is a riveting emotional time bomb that uses a slow fuse to ignite a descent into tell. The fuse might be a tad too long, but the conviction of the actors and outstanding performances will stay with you. It is the story of Abby (Llewie Nunez+) and Zack (Matt O’Shea+), a married couple living in the Belleville section of Paris. Zack is a doctor working on his passion project of pediatric AIDS. Abby is now in the process of teaching yoga, besides the fact that no one seems to show up for her classes. Living below them is a Muslim couple, Alioune (Robert Hunter), and Amina (Carly Germany*). The have a newborn, and also the landlords, as Alioune’s Uncle owns the building. When Abby comes home from her yoga class early, because once again, no one showed up, she settles in her apartment. Soon, she begins to hear music, which is eventually identified as coming from the bedroom. When she investigates, she discovers her husband taking matters into his own hand. The confrontation that results, is the first fissure in trust between the two that will ultimately destroy them. The rest of the play follows that fissure as it cracks open everyone’s humanity, trust, mental health, and damaging secrets.
The four actors that inhabit this world are wonderful. Nunez creates a character who is so neurotic and emotionally draining, I wanted to scream “Shut the F@@@ Up!” after the first 20 minutes. She lives in a world of “What If?”, and as a result, is exhausting with her insecurity. The fact that she goes off her meds does that help matters at all. Her issues with leaving her family are acute, and Nunez finds every level and nuance of neurosis that is presented. Her physical encounters are also noted, as they were executed with professional flare. Handling this tornado of angst is O’Shea, a brilliant actor. He is mesmerizing to watch as he navigates his environment, his addictions, and his fractured truth. Both of these actors create moments of tension and fear, as if I was looking into an apartment in movie Rear Window, and having no way to helping any one of them. The relationship between these two is like watching a car wreck in slow motion.
As the downstairs neighbor, Hunter brings a beautiful honesty, and when needed, a realistic harshness to the role of Alioune. He delivers a pitch perfect performance, even though he doesn’t have an asterisk or a carrot after his name. As his beautiful wife, Amina, all I can say is “Hell to the Yes!” Germany is such an incredible presence, and I have to say one of the top equity actresses in this area. Every moment is searing with relevancy and purpose. Her character stands tall as she manages against immature behavior, and is not afraid to kick some ass and take names. However at the end, she lends a disturbing surreal calm. You will remember her.
Overall, in regard to the real time approach of storytelling, understandably based in truth, I wish Atkins would have found ways to tighten the pauses of nonverbal communication and decision making. I think once you pass the 90 minute mark, it starts to test the audience. Some scene changes seemed they could be trimmed, and with the run, some of that will resolve itself. I left feeling very moved from what I saw. And, for any patrons of this show that hear the phrase “Daddy, come get me”, they will have a profound flashback to this play.
After processing the emotional toll of this storytelling, this incredibly professional cast came out for a talk back. Giving back to the audience again, with grace and fierceness. And I am sure, tired. Bravo.
+Equity Membership Candidate
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association
Director Corey Atkins, Scenic Designer Jill Davis (Spectacular job on the set, providing a fascinating look), Lighting Designer Marcus Dana (Another phenomenal job, and the ambulance passing was fierce), Costume Designer Inda Blatch-Geib (Great looks), Sound Designer Tom Linsenmeier (Nice work), Prop Designer Dred Geib, Technical Director David Tilk (Excellent), Dialect Coach Donald Carrier (convincing), Stage Manager Megan Mingus (Called a great show), and Assistant Stage Manager Lauryn Hobbs.
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2:30pm all other Sundays
$10-$28 Reserved Seating
2340 Lee Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118