Michael Brosilow

Cliff Chamberlain and Kate Arrington star in Belleville

With the summer comes all manner of featherweight diversions on Chicago stages.

But in Steppenwolf's Downstairs Theatre, you'll find something dark and twisted—a hybrid-thriller-cum-bad-romance that showcases one of the most fascinatingly dysfunctional couples this side of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

From the designers to the performers, the director Anne Kauffman has sculpted a production without a weak link. It's a compact, perfect storm of a show.

Cliff Chamberlain and Steppenwolf ensemble member Kate Arrington star in playwright Amy Herzog's taut drama, a piece whose ironic title (the name of a muliticultural neighborhood in Paris) describes the very opposite of the world where young married couple Zack (Chamberlain) and Amy (Arrington) find themselves.

With Chris Boykin (an initially trusting everyman forced to reconsider his guileless approach to life) and ensemble member Alana Arenas (devastatingly regal as Boykin's disapproving wife) playing Amy and Zack's increasingly suspicious landlords, Belleville is graced with a quartet of actors that quickly trap the audience in an emotional vice.

Through 100 intermission-less minutes, the quartet tightens the screws toward an inevitable explosion that's both cathartic and tragic. Though the drama is set in the city of lights, Herzog's deceptive, distrustful world reveals a city of darkness.

Belleville runs through Aug 25 at the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N Halsted. For ticket information, click here.