Keira Knightley Makes Broadway Debut in Moody Period Piece
By Lauren Yarger
A film star making her Broadway debut isn’t always the lead when writing about a show, but in the case of Keira Knightley and Roundabout Theatre’s production of Thérèse Raquin, that probably is the most interesting thing about the production.
In early previews, the star was praised for going on with the show like a trouper when a fan threw flowers from the balcony and shouted a marriage proposal before being escorted from the building. Shortly after, the star sustained an injury and a show was cancelled.
Now that the show has opened at the appropriately dark Studio 54, Knightley, the star of films like “Love Actually,” “First Knight (with Clive Owen also making his Broadway debut this Fall with Roundabout in Old Times) and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” to name a few, still might be the most interesting to write about.
She gives a very good performance (directed by Evan Cabnet) and holds her own on a stage glittering with other stars like the always excellent Judith Light (Lombardi, Other Desert Cities – and TV’s “Who’s the Boss?”), handsome Matt Ryan (TV’s “Constantine”) and Gabriel Ebert (Brief Encounter). The play, adapted by Helen Edmundson, based on the novel by Emile Zola, is kind of a bummer with under-developed characters whom we don’t like much. All of this set on Beowulf Boritt’s grey, colorless set (which perfectly conveys the mood) with drab colors on 1868 period costumes (designed by Jane Greenwood) kind of have us checking our watches a lot during the two-hour and 30 minute look at an unhappy wife.
Thérèse agrees to a loveless marriage to her cousin Camille (Ebert) when his forceful and coddling mother, Madame Raquin (Light), insists. Hypochondriac Ebert seems disinclined to consummate the marriage and Thérèse sinks into the depression of boredom broken weekly by the visit of some friends: Superintendent Michaud (David Patrick Kelly), Monsieur Grivet (Jeff Still) and Suzanne (Mary Wiseman), who all have their own sort of monotonous routine.
One day, everything changes, however. Camille brings home his once childhood friend and philandering artist, Laurent (Ryan). Suddenly all of Thérèse’s pent up passions are unleashed and she and Laurent begin a passionate affair which has dire consequences for Camille and Madame Raquin, as well as for the adulterers themselves, who find it difficult to live with the choices they have made.
It’s a dark, brooding piece which somehow doesn’t satisfy.
While Light was compelling as the controlling and vengeful mother, it seems her talent is underused in the role. Even a switch from the family’s home in a small village on the Seine to a new apartment in Paris doesn’t change the look. Everything is dark and gray. When Thérèse and Laurent first consummated their passion (and we get to see a lot of graphic coupling) I expected the walls of the room to glow, the light to soar to brightness (design by Josh Schmidt, who also contributes original composition) -- something like that -- but there is nothing. Their passion is as boring as everything else on stage (and as dark as the black interior décor of Studio 54).
Lighting and blocking also diminishes from the climax of the play when Madame Raquin enjoys some seeing some justice done.
Thérèse Raquin plays at Studio 54, 254 West 54th St., NYC through Jan. 3, 2016. Performances are Tuesday - Saturday at 8pm Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm (check for changes during holiday weeks). Tickets $47–$137. roundabouttheatre.org.
Christians might like to know:
-- Sexual dialogue