The Triangle is an active arena for the arts with plays, films, musical productions, gallery openings, dance, and literary events scheduled every night of the week. Each event usually boasts a healthy audience of arts aficionados who attend, discuss, and appreciate both the Broadway-caliber shows as well as the local talent.
When a new venue opens up, it is cause for celebration. On Oct. 8th, a new 99-seat black-box theater debuted in Raleigh to a rather small audience, yet Sonorous Road Productions presented its premiere production, Amy Herzog’s Belleville, with class and dignity, offering its first patrons champagne, a brand-new stage, and bright talent.
Founded by artistic director Michelle Murray Wells, who sees theater as a “safe place where students can find their artistic voice and embrace who they were designed to be,” Sonorous Road is in the neighborhood frequented by North Carolina State University students and Cameron Village residents. It offers a small parking lot for its patrons in an area where parking is at a premium, and the building is available for rent for special occasions and classes. Sonorous Road is not interested in just offering productions, they want to “grow” actors and filmmakers; and their talented staff has begun scheduling classes in acting, filmmaking, and music.
Michelle Murray Wells is the voice of the theater, its artistic director, an acting teacher, and actress. She plays the lead in this first production, the story of a young American couple attempting to navigate the foreign landscape of their new marriage, as well as of their new home in Belleville, a bohemian area of Paris. The story is about communication and misunderstandings, as well as the ways in which mental illness manifests itself when people are in an unfamiliar setting.
The play opened at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 2011 and had an Off-Broadway run in 2013. Amy Herzog, a young, award-winning playwright, is at the beginning of her career and has become known for investigating the interior life as it connects with the historical. This iteration of her play is directed by Zachary Roberts, a Raleigh native with over 30 theatrical productions to his credit.
In Belleville, the part of the husband (Zack), a doctor at the beginning of his career, is played by David Friedlander, an Off-Broadway actor and alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s MFA program. Friedlander brings a bit of a manic edge that is believable and apropos for the story. His chemistry with Wells is on point, as is his character’s tendency to lie about everything from finances to his addiction to drugs.
Zack flits about the stage as if he can’t make up his mind whether to reveal his truth or to continue to deny that he is not the man his wife married. Only when he can admit to himself that he has not been transparent does he see what he has become, and his own heart is broken as much as his wife’s.
Michelle Murray Wells plays Abby as a young and fairly innocent wife, a girl tied to her father yet needy of attention from her new husband. She still has their wedding photo on the coffee table and knows so little of her husband that she is shocked during the first scene when she comes home early and catches him viewing porn.
The character’s tendency to be rather self-absorbed is portrayed clearly by Wells; and even when she is on stage wearing little more than a towel, she is the slightly awkward, childlike, and gullible young bride. Wells exposes her character’s nervous tics and a discomfort with her isolation that implies a deeper psychological issue, a neurosis of sorts that ties the couple together.
David-Alexander Coley plays Alioune, the landlord who connects with Zack as a friend, stepping over that imaginary line between business and friendship. That social faux pas becomes the nucleus of one of the play’s central conflicts; and when Zack announces he’s unable to pay the rent, Alioune is caught in the uncomfortable position of wanting to help his friend but needing to collect the money due him. Coley depicts Alioune’s struggle as sometimes bumbling, then direct, a delicate balance that both the character and actor manage well.
Alioune’s wife, Amina, played by Tara-Whitney Rison, is the strongest adult in the group, a new mother who carries a walkie-talkie, so that she can be connected with the baby for whom she is responsible. She acts as the foil against which young Abby plays, a fully responsible human being who makes the others look like teenagers. Though not on stage for long, Amina/Rison is the glue for both her little family as well as the mature nucleus of this quartet.
The play is contemporary and well-acted, a show that deserved a much larger audience than the one that attended the first opening night. If Sonorous Road Productions finds comparable talent for their upcoming productions of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Anne of Green Gables, they will be a theater to watch.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 14th Durham, NC Indy Week review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/bad-romance-in-the-rivals-at-raleigh-little-theatre-outside-mullingar-at-deep-dish-and-belleville-at-sonorous-road-productions/Content?oid=4812163 and Oct. 7th mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/belleville/Event?oid=4754162.
Sonorous Road Productions presents BELLEVILLE at 8 p.m. Oct. 15-17 and 3 p.m. Oct. 18 at 209 Oberlin Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27605.
TICKETS: $22 ($17.80 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), including fees.
BOX OFFICE: 919-803-3798 or http://sonorousroad.ticketleap.com/belleville/.
SHOW: http://www.sonorousroad.com/belleville and https://www.facebook.com/events/1663630897188933/.
PRESENTER: http://www.sonorousroad.com/, https://www.facebook.com/sonorousroad, and https://twitter.com/sonorousroad.
Belleville (2011 Yale Repertory Theatre and 2013 Off-Broadway play): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/7571/belleville (Samuel French, Inc.), http://www.yalerep.org/on_stage/2011-12/belleville.html (Yale Repertory Theatre), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amy_Herzog#Belleville (Wikipedia). The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Amy Herzog (Highland Park, NJ-born playwright): http://www.samuelfrench.com/author/257/amy-herzog (Samuel French, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amy_Herzog (Wikipedia).
Zachary Roberts (Raleigh, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=22220625 (Facebook page).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.