Do you ever wonder how well you really know your life partner?
Nearly everyone has moments in which that question crosses their mind, and the new Pasadena Playhouse play “Belleville” explores that dilemma with a starkly riveting two-person cast, as a couple faces off over shocking discoveries during one dark night of the soul.
Starring Anna Camp of the smash-hit “Pitch Perfect” films — and a Drama Desk Award-nominated actress to boot — and Tony-nominated actor Thomas Sadoski (HBO’s “The Newsroom”), “Belleville” fits the mold of the great thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock. In it, Zach (Sadoski) and Abby (Camp) are young Americans in Paris who appear to be a perfect couple with a home in the hip Belleville neighborhood, a stable marriage, and Zack’s noble mission at Doctors Without Borders to fight pediatric AIDS.
But when Abby finds Zack at home one afternoon when he’s supposed to be at work, their marriage begins to show cracks as an ordinary night unravels into a modern-day thriller. Written by Amy Herzog, whose work has previously been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and won an Obie Award, “Belleville” provides a captivating evening of intrigue and suspense.
“I identify with Abby as an actor and a human in order to access that truth when I’m on the stage,” says Camp. “We all go through relationships in life that aren’t the healthiest at the time and you learn a lot from them, especially if you learn a relationship is not what you thought it was on a small level, or a huge level like this play.
“Do you ever truly know who you are married to?” she continues. “I hope I know who I’m married to. I trust my husband immensely. But the play shows how curiosity about another person affects your entire world.”
A South Carolina native, Camp moved to Los Angeles nine years ago to pursue TV and film after four years on the New York stage scene. She considers “Belleville” to be the darkest material she’s ever worked with, filled with unnerving plot twists that she says impacted her creative process.
“Usually when I get a play like this, I read it over and over and over and gather little things about what the characters say about her,” says Camp. “She’s fragile, tough, but you don’t see her. She’s going through a lot emotionally, grief at the death of her mother. She’s a tough cookie and says it all the time, but I think she’s a really sensitive, emotional person trapped in a relationship that’s not the healthiest. It’s a suspenseful role.”
Camp speaks highly of her stage partner Sadoski, whose work has impressed her ever since she saw him in the Broadway play “Reasons to Be Pretty.” She regards him as “a very generous, selfless actor,” an approach that fits her style well while ensuring that both performers feel safe while working out the extensive physicality required in the play.
Camp looks back fondly on her work in the “Pitch Perfect” trilogy of musical-comedy films, in which she played Aubrey. While the movies earned nearly $600 million worldwide, memories from their making are the most important aspect of them for Camp.
“We lucked out on that first movie, because nobody had any idea that it would be as big as it was,” recalls Camp. “Everyone wants to root for the underdogs and that’s what the Bellas were. When you see people overcome differences and winning, it’s really an uplifting story and the actresses were so funny. I learned so much from them, and it was a really special time of my life.”
As a longtime fan of playwright Tennessee Williams’ work, she is excited to be performing on the same stage where many of his plays were developed. She also points out “Belleville” Director Jenna Worsham has some impressive tricks up her sleeve.
“I met her on this project, and she’s incredibly smart and knows this play in and out,” says Camp. “She’s a fantastic director and I want to work with her in every play I ever do. There’s a very smart but dark quality to her so she’s embracing the dark, creepy, sexy parts of the play which is wonderful to be pushed to the dark depths of our souls. I’m so happy she’s leading us on this journey.”
“Belleville” runs from tonight through May 13 at Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. Tickets start at $25. Call (626) 356-7529 or pasadenaplayhouse.com.