'Bellevile' by Backyard Theater Ensemble

Nancy Sasso Janis

After reprising their production of 'Laundry and Bourbon' at the recent AACT Festival, Backyard Theater Ensemble decided to take on another one act play for their seventh production. Yale Repertory Theatre commissioned Amy Herzog to write 'Belleville' in 2011 and it was hailed as one of the best plays of that year. The 90-minute play is presented without intermission in the black box theater at the Thomaston Opera House Arts Center and runs through April 12. 

Zack (Chet Ostroski III) and Abby (Kailee Donovan) are Americans in their twenties living in an apartment in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Belleville in Paris. He is working with Doctors Without Borders on fighting pediatric AIDS and she has given up on acting and is working as a yoga teacher. The play begins with Abby discovering her husband at home one afternoon when he is supposed to be at work and their seemingly perfect marriage slowly begins to unravel. Abby is homesick and emotionally fragile while Zach has been hiding something from her. The audience is often on the edge of their seats as we watch the skill with which the playwright carefully pulls these loose threads in this play that was inspired by psychological thrillers.

Mr. Ostroski, a co-founder of the BTE, did a very good job with the difficult role of the caring husband Zack. DaJavon Davis returned to the stage after a two year break to finish up his Master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy to play the role of the young couple's landlord Alioune. Ashley McBride performed for the first time with this cast in the role of Amina, the wife of Alioune, but I would never have guessed it was her debut. The couple did a great job with their French lines, but since I don't speak the language, I felt a bit like I missed part of the action. 
Ms. Donovan, another co-founder of the company, impressed me with her performances as Meg in 'Crimes of the Heart' and Elizabeth in 'Laundry and Bourbon.' Here she tackles the intricate role of Abby. She pulled the audience in right from her entrance and made us care about what will happen to her fragile character. I look forward to seeing this very talented young actress in future productions.

Marydell Merrill, the Artistic Director at the Classical Magnet School in Hartford, has directed this piece with careful intensity and also designed the wonderful set that was beautifully dressed by Tina Parziale, a creative writing and theatre arts teacher at the Classical Magnet. This small space should have been overpowered by the requisite three doors in the one-bedroom apartment, but it wasn't. Set in the recent past, there were old books and cell phones. I probably would have dispensed with the albeit brief smoke in such a small space in deference to the audience. The lighting designed by Christopher Petrucci only enhanced the visuals. Taylor Crofton, the terrific Hattie in 'Laundry and Bourbon,' was in charge of the appropriate costumes.

BTE's fall show (to be announced) will be November 6-8, 13-15 and 20-22. 

Tickets are $20, $17 for Students and Seniors. Tickets are available through the Landmark Community Theatre Box Office at https://tickets.landmarkcommunitytheatre.org/ or 860-283-6250 For more information, visit BackyardTheater.org

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