Sunday, 25 October 2015

Theatre Review: Thérèse Raquin, Roundabout Theatre Company, Studio 54, New York City

Émile Zola’s 1867 novel of exclusion, passion, adultery and murder has come to life this season in a dark and gripping production on New York’s Broadway.

Gabriel Ebert, Matt Ryan, and Keira Knightley [Photo: Joan Marcus]
Hollywood star Keira Knightley is entirely believable as Thérèse throughout.

She starts the play as the awkward outcast, bullied by her aunt (Judith Light) and eventually married off to her self-centred and hypochondriac cousin, Camille (Gabriel Ebert). She has few lines and is rarely centre stage, sat or stood in corners with her head downcast. But she draws our eye from the beginning, partly due to Keith Parham’s lighting, but also because of how interesting it is to watch her reactions. Her slight movements carry to the very back of the balcony, exciting audience sympathy and making it tricky to concentrate on what the other actors are saying at all.

Keira Knightley and Judith Light [Photo: Joan Marcus]
In the middle portion of the play, Knightley plays a role that is more recognisable from her – the impassioned lover. Fatally attracted to her husband’s friend Laurent (Matt Ryan), Thérèse embarks upon a doomed affair and is transformed in the process.

Knightley lets her words spill out over each other, moves at a faster pace about the small claustrophobic apartment that is the set for much of the play, and centres all her reactions on Laurent, making it clear where her attention is focussed from his very first entrance. She and Ryan work well together, although the affair seems more a product of Thérèse’s long-standing loneliness, than any particular attractions on Laurent’s part, beyond his sexual experience. Their on-stage sexual encounters are always brief, and clothed, although expect some bodice-ripping staples – tumbling hair and loosened necklines.

Keira Knightley and Matt Ryan [Photo: Sara Krulwich]
In the final portion of the play, the lovers face the most difficult challenge – depicting the disintegration of their relationship, and their minds, after the murder of Camille. Knightley undulates beautifully between restraint and collapse, and sanity and madness here, while the unusual set of circumstances the couple finds themselves in is also played here like many abusive and unhappy domestic relationships. Ryan puts in a stronger performance I think in his hate than in love, and Light comes close to stealing the show in these final scenes with her harrowing performance as Camille’s broken mother, destroyed by grief, a stroke, and, finally, the understanding of what Laurent and Thérèse have done.

Director Evan Cabnet’s production of Helen Edmundson’s adaption is also notable for its set (designed by Beowulf Boritt) – including an onstage river. We are first introduced to Thérèse against a bleak and open stage, dominated by the water – one of the play’s most striking images – and the murder, later, is able to appear more realistic, and less ridiculous than it might have done on-stage, as the three (Camille, Laurent, Thérèse) are in fact in a small and rocking row boat.

Keira Knightley as Thérèse Raquin [Photo: Mikael Jansson, Vogue]
Some may object to Knightley’s casting as a character who is meant to be half-Algerian, but there’s no denying she does a stellar job at capturing Thérèse in all her complexity. It’s an incredible Broadway debut, and one well worth buying a ticket for.

Thérèse Raquin is currently in preview. The play opens October 29 and runs until January 2016. Tickets are available here.

Do you know of any other NYC productions of nineteenth-century plays the Secret Victorianist should watch? Let me know – here, on Facebook, on Google+, or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

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