Emile Zola’s novel of adultery and murder, “Therese Raquin,” adapted by Neal Bell, offers a compelling performance by Elizabeth Marvel in the title role, and while talky exposition dominates the first act, the production’s seething sexual intensity maintains a grasp on the audience.
Therese (Marvel) is the unfulfilled wife of weak and sickly young milliner Camille (Todd Weeks). She finds escape from her tedious, empty world when she meets a Bohemian artist (Sean Haberle), and the couple are soon engaged in a steamy affair and a murder plot. After drowning the husband, the adulterers are haunted by guilt, ghostly apparitions and the silent accusations of Camille’s devoted mother (Beth Dixon). The lovers fail to regain the fiery ardor of their affair.
Bell has invested the psychological thriller with poetic dialogue. Extraneous characters add touches of humorously ironic observations, often assuming an ominous, surrealistic presence.
From a vacant, icy stare to eyes aflame with red-hot desire, Marvel gives the play its life and thrust, her performance layered with passion, fear and guilt. Fine too are Haberle as the painter and Dixon as the fussy mother who becomes a daunting and knowing invalid.
David Esbjornson has staged much of the action with brisk staccato scenes, and Christopher Akerlind’s crisp lighting design brings sharp definition to each vignette. The reenactment of the murder, in which the lovers’ bed becomes a rowboat, is staged with chilling effect. Narelle Sissons’ set of a gloomy Paris loft captures the somber mood of the piece, as do the dark period costumes by Kaye Voyce.