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Thérèse Raquin 

Heaving-breasted Victorian women, suicides-by-potion, and ghosts: Who says Zola was a naturalist?

Wednesday, Jul 2 2003
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Like almost every great novel in 19th-century France, Emile Zola's Thérèse Raquin was a succèss de scandale. It tells the story of a dark-minded young woman, Thérèse, trapped in a stupid bourgeois marriage, who conspires with her lover, Laurent, to kill her annoying husband. They do it by pushing him into the Seine, so it looks like an accident. The resulting events reflect as badly on the French bourgeoisie as they do on Laurent and Thérèse, and one outraged critic called the novel "a quagmire of slime and blood." It sold like hot cakes. Tom Ross directs a brilliant revival of Zola's own adaptation at the Aurora Theatre. The talented Stephanie Gularte plays a beautiful, haunted Thérèse; Mark Elliot Wilson is a potent (though sometimes stilted) Laurent; and Joy Carlin is masterful as Mme. Raquin, the mother of the murder victim, who learns the truth and immediately suffers a heart attack. Jonathan Rhys Williams as the annoying husband and Stephen Pawley as an equally fussy older man provide fine comic relief. The only mystery about this show is how the invented plot ever gave Zola his reputation for naturalism. Somehow, he led the movement away from melodrama and romanticism into the more clinical 20th century with this psychological thriller of heaving-breasted Victorian women, suicides-by-potion, and even a ghost in the hall.

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