“The drama will either die or become modern and realistic,” announced Émile Zola in a preface to Thérèse Raquin, his play based on his novel of the same name. This declaration was part of the nineteenth-century writer’s bold political vision: Meticulously staged slices of real life, he thought, would bring attention to the plight of the working classes.
Alas, the Roundabout’s new adaptation by Helen Edmundson, directed by Evan Cabnet, doesn’t feel modern or realistic — though it might make you wish its characters would expire more quickly. Keira Knightley, making her Broadway debut, takes an awkward, grimacing turn as the miserable Thérèse, forced to marry her frail, cranky cousin Camille (Gabriel Ebert) and move with him to Paris. There she meets the dashing Laurent (Matt Ryan) and begins a torrid affair. This can only end poorly. Laurent and Thérèse begin plotting to be together, which necessitates Camille’s demise, and things turn grisly one afternoon on the Seine.
The problem is, despite his theories, Zola’s story isn’t realistic. It’s full-blown melodrama, complete with murder, betrayal, eavesdropping, knives, and poison. Cabnet’s production proceeds fitfully, uncertain whether to aim for believability or embrace the outsize passions. It doesn’t quite achieve either — though there is a mildly exciting rowboat scene. Like the drowning Camille, the production flails, looking for rescue in all the wrong places.
By Helen Edmundson
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