Photo: Stan Barouh
A woman sits and stares. She is trying to see the river, she explains. We quickly realize that what she is trying to see is something, anything, other than the unexciting life in which she feels trapped. Her cousin, then husband, Camille is sweet but ineffectual. Her aunt is kind but boring. Thérèse feels buried alive. And then she meets Laurent--dashing and sexy Laurent. Based on Emile Zola's novel, Thérèse Raquin combines the sexuality of a potboiler, the eeriness of an Edgar Allan Poe story, and the morality of an old movie, sometimes movingly and sometimes awkwardly. In the small Atlantic 2 theatre, the audience is intimately involved with the dreams, nightmares, and fervid couplings of Thérèse and Laurent. Sometimes Jim Petosa's staging seems hokey, but often it is vividly evocative and emotional. In the second act in particular, the inventive, almost-over-the-top direction uses simple yet intense theatricality to pull the audience into the story. Lily Balsen as Thérèse is always fascinating if occasionally overwrought, and her amazing looks (Frieda Kahlo meets Lena Olin) bring much to her portrayal. Scott Janes is attractive and smoothly charming. Willie Orbison comes across as being as much in love with Laurent as he is with Therese. This is an interesting approach, but it could have and should have been more subtly handled. Overall, it is wonderful that this production of Thérèse Raquin exists. How lucky we theatre-goers are that incredibly talented people are willing to work their butts off for little or no money and little or no acclaim, giving us intense, exhausting, often exhilarating performances for the sheer love of doing theatre.