Therese Raquin, a dramatization of Emile Zola’s 19th century novel now at the Ensemble Theatre, spills not a drop of blood, but still effectively conveys the characters’ darkest passions and murderous impulses.
A mostly Equity cast is harrowingly convincing as the adulterous lovers and their middle-class Parisian friends. Lauren Lovett, as Therese, from the very first scene is a visibly seething woman with acid in her soul. Jamison Jones is equally effective as her lover and ultimate nemesis, Laurent.
Zola was no stranger to shocking his audiences. Here he weaves a tale of a young woman unhappily married to her first cousin, Camille, well played by Michael Matthys. This mismatch takes place in the apartment of Camille’s overbearing Maman, portrayed by Barbara Tarbuck.
Mme Raquin, alternately doting and nagging, manipulates the young people and also her friends, M. Grivet, (Paul Tigue), M. Michaud (Edward K. Romine) and Suzanne (Jessica Spaw). She has spoiled son Camille until he is selfish and whiny, initially making Therese’s resentments understandable.
But she and Laurent, children of the bourgeoisie, are playing a game with their affair that is not only dangerous for them, but increasingly perilous for Camille as well. The first act sets up the tragedy to follow, when they and Camille plan a boating excursion and Mme. Raquin warns them several times to be careful, everyone knows boating is not a safe pursuit.
The second act begins with the news that Camille has, indeed, drowned. His mother is disconsolate, and the emotions of his widow are increasingly unpredictable. When she and Laurent are alone, each shows signs of increasing guilt, anger and fear.
Jonathan Fox, executive artistic director of the Ensemble, points out in the program notes that Zola thought of himself as something of a scientist, examining his characters as if they were laboratory specimens. Fox also directed this production, which pre-dates Freud and dramatists such as Ibsen and Strindberg.
As usual, the Ensemble provides quality stage craft, including sets by Harry Feiner, costume design by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg and lighting by J. Kent Inasy. Kent Merckx was the fight director, choreographing the battling Therese and Laurent as they reach a pitch of loathing for one another.
This is adult fare in every sense, and truly compelling.