by Deirdre Donovan
Zola’s novel Therese Raquin comes to life on Broadway with a new adaptation by
playwright Helen Edmundson. Featuring Keira Knightley, Gabriel Ebert, Matt
Ryan, and Judith Light, and directed by Evan Cabnet, this show may well be the
spookiest new production of the season.
parsing this, and that aspect, of the current show, here are some of its various
incarnations in film, radio, TV, and stage adaptations over the years. The
author himself, in fact, penned a stage version of his literary work, first
produced in 1873, and then a decade later, in London. In both the 20th
and 21th century, the novel would surface again in various guises,
including two silent European film adaptations, BBC TV and radio productions,
and a smattering of stagings across the globe. New York theatergoers might
even recall the 2001 Broadway musical Thou Shalt Not, based on Zola’s
novel, with the amazing Norbert Leo Butz playing Camille and his ghost (Butz
snagged a well-deserved Tony-nomination for this performance.) And, oh yes. Therese
Raquin had a straight stage adaptation on Broadway at the Biltmore in 1945.
Knightley and Judith Light
to Edmundson’s new version, it comes with its own stamp. Edmundson keeps the
novel’s main themes blazing--adultery, murder, guilt, and revenge—and retains
the narrative’s arc. Here’s the plot: Therese Raquin (Knightley) is the
orphan daughter of a sea captain father and a North African mother who died
when she was very young. Unable to care for Therese, the father placed her in
the care of his sister Madame Raquin (Light), a village shopkeeper, who already
had a son Camille (Ebert), approximately the same age as Therese. When Therese
turns 21, she is coerced by Madame Raquin into marrying her self-centered son
Camille. Locked into a loveless marriage with her first cousin and still
living under Madame Raquin’s roof, Therese becomes increasingly desperate. Her
husband Camille pays scant attention to her emotional needs and preoccupies
himself with relocating the family from a sleepy village on the Seine to Paris,
where job prospects would likely be better for him. They move to the city, and
the two women establish themselves as haberdashers and Camille gains employment
at a train station.
Gabriel Ebert, Matt Ryan and Keira Knightley Photos
by Joan Marcus
Camille meets a childhood friend Laurent (Ryan) at work and brings him home one
evening for dinner. Sparks ignite between Laurent and Therese—and their
passion leads to an adulterous affair. Laurent and Therese soon hatch a plan
to murder Camille during a recreational boat ride. They carry it out—and cover
up the crime to the public, explaining Camille’s tragic death as a “boating
accident.” Time passes—and Therese and Laurent marry. But plagued by guilt,
they have recurring hallucinations of Camille’s ghost that unsettles them and
eventually drives them mad. And let’s not forget Madame Raquin! In shock over
Camille’s sudden death, she suffered a paralyzing stroke that left her mute and
confined to a wheelchair. In spite of her frail condition, however, she
serves as the main catalyst in the denouement of this Hitchcock-esque tale.
Therese Raquin demands your total attention from the getgo. But with
Beowulf Boritt’s stunning sets, you won’t want to pull your eyes away from the stage
for very long at Studio 54. Boritt has created multiple sets that adapt to the
dramatic needs of each scene, including the grisly murder scene (Boritt
simulates a river front and a full-sized row boat that carries Therese,
Laurent, and the doomed Camille across real watery depths.) In collaboration
with Keith Parham’s shadowy lighting, this show has visual eloquence. Add in
Jane Greenwood’s period costumes, and Josh Schimidt’s rich sound effects, and
you have the grit and texture of the original melodrama.
acting mostly measures up. Knightley, in her Broadway debut in the eponymous
role, shows that she can traverse the boards with confidence. Knightley never
overacts here but has a real presence on stage. Ebert, as the self-important Camille,
rightly projects himself as a man of the world as he climbs his career ladder
(and woefully neglects his wife). Ryan couldn’t be better cast as Laurent. In
Act 1, his Laurent has a rakish air, which is gradually erased in Act 2 as
guilt overtakes his character. And Light, almost unrecognizable at first as
the elderly Madame Raquin, practically steals the show at play’s end as a
stroke victim who has a sharp ear for the truth and whose penetrating eyes
the play does run a tad too long, clocking in at 2 ½ hours, and would greatly
benefit from trimming (or cutting) a few scenes. Yes, Cabnet makes a good
attempt at evenly pacing the production. But there are sags in the action in
both acts, which put a brake on the show’s general momentum.
said, this Therese Raquin has much going for it. From its
spine-tingling suspense, to its quirky psychological twists, to its
breath-taking ending, this show (even with its flaws) is haunting.
Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street, Manhattan.
more information, phone 212-719-1300 or visit roundabouttheatre.org.
time: 2 hours; 30 minutes with an intermission.