Boy was I deflated when the usher at Thérèse Raquin told me the show was a solid 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 20 minute intermission. Say what? My first thought: Ugh, I won’t be getting home until midnight. My second thought: This is a very good excuse for buying myself and my friend Jessica drinks at intermission. If I’m going to sit through a long, dark, heavy play, at least I could do it with a beverage in hand, right?
As it turns out, though, neither of us felt the need to ply ourselves with alcohol. Thérèse Raquin was compelling, haunting, and overall a very entertaining evening. Nice performances; fascinating story; impressive production. We were both glad we’d seen it. I had seen it years ago (in London) but didn’t remember much about it. Before I forget the plot again, here’s what it’s about: Keira Knightley stars as Thérèse, a passionate young woman caught between desire and duty in nineteenth-century Paris. She and her lover, Laurent, conspire against her annoying ninny of a husband, Camille. Violence, death, madness and revenge all follow. Cue the ominous music, right?
Actually there was a lot of melodramatic music during the show. It feels more like a modern psychological thriller than a 19th century tragedy. The adaptation, by Helen Edmundson, is a sparse, taut retelling of the Zola story, with lots of telling pauses and knowing glances. It’s cinematic, too, in that there are lots of jumps and short scenes. To be honest, chunks of it lacked subtlety. The plot requires Therese and Laurent to be overcome with guilt in the second act, so Madame Raquin turns from an overbearing, domineering woman in the first act into a saintly, self-sacrificing one in the second act.Thérèse desires Laurent, so Thérèse visibly leans towards Laurent. Thérèse is lonely, so she stares out the window and barely responds to the world around her. (She seems a little aspy in the first half of the play, actually.)
That’s basically how Keira Knightley plays it. In the past, I’ve generally liked her performances, but she does bring a bit of a sameness to many of the roles she portrays, and Thérèse is no different. If you have seen her in Pride and Prejudice, or Pirates of the Caribbean, or Anna Karenina, you probably have the general idea of what her performance is like. That said, she does carry the show fairly well, and perhaps I would have sensed more texture in her performance if I had been sitting a little closer. (We were in the center of the mezzanine, and Studio 54 is a large theater. I always feel like intimate dramas such as this should be in smaller performance spaces.) The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent: Gabriel Ebert is perfectly irritating as Camille, Judith Light is phenomenal as Madame Raquin, and Matt Ryan is charming-but-deadly as Laurent.
And the physical production was excellent, too. Now I’m not sure if it was necessary to turn the back half of the stage into a pool, or to have such an intricate household set flying in from the rafters, but it certainly made for beautiful and impressive visuals. (Just looked it up: Beowulf Borritt, of Act One fame, was the designer. No surprise there, then! That man’s a genius.) I do wish the lighting had been a little brighter, however. There’s a difference between “atmospheric” and “hard to see.”
And the show ended at 10:38 (seven minutes ahead of schedule)! So all in all it was a successful evening and a play worth seeing. If you like it dark.
My Grade: B+
Ticket price: Jessica bought them (thank you Jess!)
Worth it: Ask Jess, but I think so
Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes
Standing Ovation Watch: 70%