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BWW Review: Keira Knightley in a Gorgeously Designed and Understated THERESE RAQUIN


The plot of Parisian Émile Zola's 1867 novel, Thérèse Raquin, initially sounds like something out of a gothic romance novel. Thérèse is lonely orphaned woman raised by an overbearing aunt who forces her to marry her sickly son, Camille; a man so accustomed to being cared for that he has no regard for his wife's physical and emotional needs.

Keira Knightley and Judith Light (Photo: Joan Marcus)

She's resigned to live a life of little joy when the strong and sexy Laurent, a painter, initiates a tryst and their furiously passionate affair awakens desires Thérèse never knew she could hope for. She plants the idea in Laurent's head to murder Camille and make it look like an accident so they can be together, but their actions result in consequences they could never imagine.

But Zola was a practitioner in the movement of naturalism and his novel, and the play adaptation he also penned, was meant to be taken as analytical rather than sentimental. His four main characters, all of whom act upon their own desires without compassion for others, were intended to represent the four temperaments, based on the psychological theory of four personality types.

Critics called his work offensive and immoral, insuring its immediate success with the public.

Director Evan Cabnet's gorgeously understated mounting of Helen Edmundson's adaptation looks like a somewhat faded oil painting come to life. Designers Beowulf Boritt (set), Jane Greenwood (costumes) and Keith Parham (lights) offer visuals that evoke the naturalism movement in art that was inspired by Zola. The walls of Thérèse home suggest a prison. The garret where she releases her passion with Laurent is suspended in the air as if it were heaven. When a river is needed, there's enough water to row a boat. Though never slowly paced the evening offers many breathtakingly still moments worthy of framing.

Gabriel Ebert, Matt Ryan and Keira Knightley
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The first-rate cast has Keira Knightley's introverted Thérèse subtly expressing the acceptance of her sorrow, so that when unfamiliar urges take over it allows merely the slightest change of physicality to clearly state that she's overwhelmed by raw emotions she has no idea how to control.

Matt Ryan's Laurent is a master manipulator of women who is so taken with the instinctively sexual Thérèse that he, too, loses control. Gabriel Ebert's gangly and adolescently humored Camille resembles a repulsive Dickins caricature.

Judith Light is quietly threatening as the aunt, confident in her power to toss Thérèse into the street if she wanted to, but admirable in her attempt to stay strong when tragedies mount.

Thérèse Raquin may no longer have the ability to shock audiences, except for the fact that its immorality is expressed with such thoughtful delicacy.

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