Thursday, July 9, 2009

Therese Raquin (PTP/NYC at Atlantic Stage 2)

By Molly
hauntingly scary • based on a novel written in the 1800's • hyper-sexual but no nudity • artistically interpretive story telling (in a good way)

BOTTOM LINE: A very theatricalized presentation of a very creepy story.

Potomac Theatre Project's 2009 summer repertoire include two plays that propel the company's mission: they are highly theatrical and thought-provoking work of contemporary social and cultural relevance. One of these offerings, Therese Raquin, is all of the above in the style of a somewhat cracked-out horror flick. It offers a lot to its audience and indulges anyone with a penchant for both theatre and scary movies.

Adapted from a novel by Emile Zola that was written in the 1800's, Therese Raquin takes place in Paris and tells the story of tortured soul, Therese (Lily Balsen). Raised by her aunt (Helen-Jean Arthur) and having grown up with her sickly cousin Camille (Willie Orbison), Therese is somewhat maladjusted to begin with. When she is an adult, she marries Camille as was always the intended plan. Camille is whiney and pathetic and Therese quickly tires of him. Enter Laurent (Scott Janes), an old family friend whom Therese instantly falls for. They begin an intense affair and then decide they're sick of having a secret relationship so they take drastic action to get rid of Camille. Cue Psycho shower scene music.

This production is overly theatrical and indulgently verbose at first. I have to say I was confused by the morose presentation at the beginning of the play; I mean, the story was sad, but it wasn't immediately unsettling (unless you think marrying your first cousin is unsettling but that's a different story). So just as I was questioning the tone of the play in accordance with the action, and just as I was wondering when they would stop talking and do something, the drama pushed forward and the story was on a fast and wonderful track to crazy-town. The set-up made sense and I was happily on the ride. By the end, the artistic choices worked perfectly and I felt a little bad that I wasn't more trusting from the start.

Therese Raquin is acted convincingly well. Balsen makes a terrifying Therese (who really just wants to be happy). Arthur is fantastic as Therese's aging aunt. With strategic direction that utilizes the four main characters and four other characters (who serve as a makeshift Greek chorus), director Jim Petosa paints an eerie picture. Considering the stage consists of only two chairs and up to eight actors, Petosa specifically blocks the scenes in ways that fill out the space and pin-point the story in clever and accurate ways. Awesome lighting design contributes to this overall visual effect as well. There is a disturbing chill in the air.

Much of Therese Raquin is over-written and I'd bet this has more to do with the story's original roots rather than this adaptation by Neal Bell. The result (plus the over-theatrical storytelling utilized for the production) gives the show a kind of highbrow vibe. It probably wouldn't make a neophyte an instant fan of the theatre. This show is for those who already like watching live theatre (in all its pretentious glory). And if you are also a fan of horror movies, then this show is definitely for you.

(Therese Raquin plays through July 26th at Atlantic Theatre, Stage 2, 330 West 16th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. Remaining performances are Sat 7/11 at 7:30pm, Sun 7/12 at 2pm, Thu 7/16 at 7:30pm, Fri 7/17 at 7:30pm, Sat 7/18 at 2pm, Sun 7/19 at 7:30pm, Tue 7/21 at 7:30pm, Wed 7/22 at 7:30pm, Sat 7/25 at 7:30pm, Sun 7/26 at 2pm. Running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes including intermission. Tickets are $20 and $10 for students/seniors and can be purchased at or at 212-279-4200. For more show info visit
Stan Barouh if a photo is used. Thanks.

Photo: Willie Orbison (rear) as Camille Raquin, Helen-Jean Arthur as Madame Raquin and Lily Balsen as Therese Raquin. Photo by Stan Barouh.

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