By May S. Ruiz
Amy Herzog’s exciting new thriller ‘Belleville’ debuts on the West Coast at the Pasadena Playhouse from Wednesday, April 18 to Sunday, May 13. Directed by Jenna Worsham, this Hitchcock-style drama stars Anna Camp as Abby and Thomas Sadoski as Zack.
The play centers on Zack and Abby, young Americans who look for all the world like a perfect couple experiencing the ideal expatriate life in Paris so he can fulfill his noble mission at Doctors Without Borders to fight pediatric AIDS. They live in a funky bohemian apartment in Belleville.
This image of perfection is shattered when Abby finds Zack at home one afternoon when he’s supposed to be at work. Their idyllic life turns into a nightmare and we watch in suspense as the real characters beneath the façade are slowly unmasked.
While neither Sadoski nor Camp has seen ‘Belleville’ performed they have both heard of it and its playwright. Sadoski says, “Amy is a Pulitzer Prize nominee and an Obie Award winner and I know of her work. She’s a tremendous writer, one of the most important voices of her generation. I’m so thrilled to be working on this project!”
This marks the first time Sadoski will be on stage at this venue and he recounts how he got the role, “I love this theater and its history. Danny Feldman, the Playhouse’s Producing Artistic Director, and I have been talking for a while about finding some work for me to do in Pasadena. It so happened that he had a window and we threw around some ideas about what plays we wanted to do. When he mentioned ‘Belleville’ I just went ‘Absolutely!’ It’s really a no-brainer.
“We also realized it hadn’t been done on the West Coast so this would be the premiere and that got us all the more excited. Our director, Jenna Worsham, is a huge advocate of Amy’s work and she was thrilled with the idea. So we, as a unit, jumped at the opportunity to put it up.”
Sadoski says further, “As rehearsal goes on we’ll continue to unwrap who these people are. The most interesting for me at the moment is delineating between the private Zack and the public Zack – the version that he presents to the world and the Zack that exists inside that only he knows.
“It’s going to be really exciting to prolong that feeling of unease, fear, suspicion, and discomfort throughout the play. The last thing we want is for it to be a caricature of a film noir. I would be interested to see how the audience reacts and that’s the beauty of live theatre.
“I’m always a bit reluctant to form an idea of what I want the audience to leave with. Early on I had a really strong opinion about what I would like the play to bring out and I worked really hard to make that happen. But what I learned in time was that I can have those wants and desires but people will come with their own experience which, in turn, will inform what they walk away with.
“I’m at a point in my career when I just want to tell the story as truthfully as I possibly can, give an honest and open performance. I think that’s more generous than determining the conclusion I want the audience to have. That said, it’s also very Hitchcockian – you don’t come out of a Hitchcock movie with a song in your heart and a spring in your feet.”
A famously private person, there isn’t a lot out there about Sadoski and he likes to keep it that way. He discloses, “Firstly, it’s the way I was raised. Secondly, I am happy to share my thoughts and opinions about politics and whatnot but I am not the kind of person who has his personal life on display at all times.
“Additionally, I don’t think it serves me as an actor to give people some sense of ownership. Nor for the audience’s perception, when I go on stage or in front of the camera, be colored by what they think they know about me. I want to be able to make my performance be true to the character I play.”
Sadoski has been on television (‘The Newsroom,’ ‘Life in Pieces’) and on Broadway (‘reasons to be pretty’ and ‘Other Desert Cities,’ with a Tony Award nomination. He has, of late, been doing audiobooks.
“Theatre is my first love so I would like to keep coming back to it,” Sadoski reveals. “I enjoy doing TV and film so I will continue to do them as much as possible. I have also found a lot of joy doing audiobooks. I think the next place for me to go artistically is directing; I look forward to that opportunity.”
“Life couldn’t be better at this point. I have a beautiful daughter and wonderful wife I love hanging out with and I go to work. I’m one of the few fortunate people who can say that I get to do what I love to do for a living. My cup runneth over,” concludes Sadoski.
Anna Camp is adored by everyone who has seen her in the film Pitch Perfect (1, 2 and 3) and has built a following with her appearances on iconic TV hits ‘Mad Men’ and ‘The Good Wife.’ Like Sadoski she will be performing at The Playhouse for the first time and was very excited when she got the script for Belleville.
“I feel in love with it immediately after I read it,” recalls Camp. “I called my agent and said ‘I’m doing this.’ It was very powerful and there was some sense I had about this character. I have not been offered a role like this, certainly not a theatrical piece, and I was very glad they considered me for it.
“I’ve seen Tom on Broadway, off-Broadway, and from ‘The Newsroom.’ While he and I have worked on Broadway at about the same time, I’ve never worked with him before. I’m very happy that this will be the moment we’ll work together because he’s fantastic for the role and it’s a fantastic material to be working with him on for the first time. It was quite amazing how we had an easy relationship from the first day of rehearsal. I can’t ask for a better job.”
Asked if she had specific thoughts on how to approach the character, Camp answers, “Obviously when you first read a script you have an idea in your head but nothing really comes into focus until you’re working with the actors and allowing the director to ask more questions of the character to find out about the person. And I’m actually discovering that in some ways she is like other characters I’ve played before, and in other ways she’s different. And every day, as we rehearse, it gets more complex and more layered.
“I’m finding out more who Abby is, she’s becoming a fully realized person and who I want her to be. It helped that I didn’t see the play before; I always like not having an idea of what someone has already done with the role haunting me in a way. I’m curious as to how other actors have played it before but I’m glad I haven’t seen it performed onstage. That’s what makes this incredibly my own and that’s the beauty in doing a play.
“There are certain things that happen as Zack and Abby interact that I found fascinating. In the beginning Abby appeared to be in fear of her own shadow, feeling out of place living in Paris, and afraid in her own apartment. And at the same time there are so many moments when she could be cutting, and harsh, and cruel. It’s a really well drawn out character – there’s a lot of anger underneath her and it’s very biting. This is a really multi-dimensional character that Amy has created.”
“The best part about a Hitchcockian thriller is the buildup,” continues Camp. “And that’s the fun part – shaping the play into something that keeps the audience at the edge of their seat and not know whom to root for; to have them come up with their own conclusion as they watch the play. We want to truly increase the suspense before the final reveal.
“I want the audience to be moved emotionally in a way that they are not expecting, to feel what it’s like to be in love but in a wrong kind of love; to learn something about yourself; to make you a better human being during this time you have on the planet.”
Being in this play has also taught Camp something, “I’m finding out the difference between film and theatre. Last night during rehearsal Jenna said ‘theatre is like live music – you play the same notes every night but you’re playing it in a different way; and film is like a painting, it is done and it is complete and it’s over.’ I will carry her words with me forever.”
Camp discloses future plans, “I am in the middle of producing a film where I will star in and we’re trying to hire a writer. I’m looking for more female-led ventures and projects that would connect with my audience. I’ve loved acting since I was a little girl and as long as I can continue to do that then I’m living my dream. Working in theatre is something that has deepened me as an actor and I hope it leaves me a better actor than when I came in.”
Camp and Sadoski are exciting performers to watch. They have proven themselves in every medium they’ve been in. They are both at the Pasadena Playhouse to show us how live theatre can mesmerize, enthrall, and hypnotize in a play that may very well make us question if we really know the people to whom we are closest. The master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock, would approve.