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Roundabout Theatre Company Presents "Therese Raquin" at Studio 54
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Roundabout Theatre Company Presents "Therese Raquin" at Studio 54

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Roundabout Theatre Company

Todd Haimes, Artistic Director
Harold Wolpert, Managing Director
Julia C. Levy, Executive Director
Sydney Beers, General Manager

Keira Knightley, Gabriel Ebert, Matt Ryan
Judith Light

Thérèse Raquin
(Thérèse Raquin Website)

By Helen Edmundson
Based on the novel by Émile Zola

Directed by Evan Cabnet

David Patrick Kelly, Jeff Still, Mary Wiseman
Glynis Bell, Alex Mickiewicz, Sara Topham, Ray Virta

Studio 54
254 West 54th Street

Set Design: Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: Jane Greenwood
Lighting Design: Keith Parham
Sound Design and Original Composition: Josh Schmidt
Hair & Wig Design: Tom Watson
Fight Director: J. David Brimmer
Dialect Coach: Kate Wilson
Production Stage Manager: Peter Hanson
Technical Supervision: Hudson Theatrical Associates
Casting: Jim Carnahan CSA & Carrie Gardner, CSA
Press Representative: Polk & Co.
Director of Marketing & Audience Development: Robert Sweibel
Founding Director: Gene Feist
Director of Development: Lynne Guggenheim Gregory
Adams Associate Artistic Director: Scott Ellis

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 4, 2015

In Helen Edmundson’s commissioned play, an adaptation of Thérèse Raquin, Emile Zola’s 1867 novel, the audience is immediately drawn in, with a dark, airless interior set, in a small village on the River Seine. The Roundabout Theatre Company’s Studio 54 stage has been downsized, it seems, in the suffocating scene that opens this tale of desperation, lust, remorse, and terror. Keira Knightley, as Thérèse, appears in a narrow-wasted, high-necked, corseted dress, living with Madame Raquin (Judith Light), her aunt, who has raised her since her mother’s untimely death. Yet, Madame Raquin’s obsession has been her adult son, Camille (Gabriel Ebert), a hypochondriac, who demands a mother’s full attention at all waking and resting hours. Camille and Thérèse have been longtime companions, of necessity, and when Thérèse comes of age she is married off to her lifeless, lust-less cousin. Soon after their marriage, a spark of hope occurs in Camille’s decision to move this trio to Paris, and Thérèse momentarily sees sunlight. Yet, the Parisian apartment is just as dark and dank as was the space in the village, and, while Camille goes to work in his new urban career, Thérèse is left to work with her aunt-mother-in-law. When Camille brings a childhood friend, Laurent (Matt Ryan), home to greet his family, sparks fly between Laurent, an artist, whose prostitutes are now expensive, and Thérèse, who smells hormones. And so the plot thickens within the confined, shadowy, Parisian space.

The sexual encounters between Laurent and Thérèse are rushed and primal. Tonight’s audience was prone to giggle inappropriately, as if watching these scenes unfold on the small screen. I found this intolerable, but the play’s direction, by Evan Cabnet, was prone to exude wit, where tragedy was looming. In fact, Ms. Light, a master actor, who, like Ms. Knightley and Mr. Ebert have been favorably reviewed on these pages, seemed too obsequious, too warm, too naïve, in the face of the tragedy of her son, Camille, who became the lone obstacle to Thérèse and Laurent’s affair, and to Laurent’s dreams for a financial future. Thérèse had become a tool, for Camille, Madame, and Laurent; the dutiful wife, the obedient daughter-in-law, and the heiress of Madame’s estate. A rushing River Seine becomes a significant scenic prop, for Laurent’s attempt to seize an opportunity and for Thérèse to escape her arranged destiny with Camille and Madame. Many plot twists would be ruined in the telling, here, for those new to Zola’s tale, but suffice it to say that it’s riveting drama. Additional characters, card-playing and drinking friends of Camille and Madame, are Monsieur Grivet (Jeff Still), Superintendent Michaud (David Patrick Kelly), and Suzanne (Mary Wiseman). Their repartee often unfolds as Thérèse sits and stares with lifeless languor.

Mr. Cabnet could have directed to expand the dramatic contrasts. Ms. Light is a hugely entertaining actor, but a colder, more severe actor may have been more suited for this role. When Madame has strokes and is confined to a wheelchair, one can still sense the humor inherent in Ms. Light’s warm presence. As Camille, Mr. Ebert is well cast as bland, unlikeable, and self-absorbed. Mr. Ryan, as Laurent, exudes non-credible passion, using Thérèse as his mistress and potential, patron-wife. And, Ms. Knightley, as the lonely, resigned Thérèse, who succumbs to her dead-ended fate early on, is spellbinding and flawless in this Broadway debut. Her sharp-edged neediness cuts the air with palpable pain. Beowulf Boritt’s death-attracting scenery fits Ms. Edmundson’s adaptation with expertise. The River scene, especially, is gripping, while Laurent’s suspended art studio hangs in the air, like a figment of Thérèse’s imagination. Jane Greenwood’s dark cloaks for Madame and unfashionable, long, cinched dresses for Thérèse are also perfectly designed for this barely breathing woman. Keith Parham’s mostly dim lighting enhances the moment-to-moment dread. I noted that Josh Schmidt’s sound design was excellent, with all characters heard crisply and clearly.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at