Thérèse Raquin: Designer Statements

Beowulf Borritt - Set Designer

"The Bedroom" by Vilhelm Hammershoi

"The Bedroom" by Vilhelm Hammershoi

Thérèse Raquin is a story of a young woman forced into smaller and smaller boxes until she lashes out with devastating results. It's startling and sad to see how relevant that mid-nineteenth century storyline remains in 2015. Helen Edmundson's beautifully modern adaptation of Émile Zola's novel sets up water as a primary image. The river is a place of emotional release for Thérèse in the early scenes, the tool of her physical release at the center of the play, and a haunting phantom late in the story. Evan Cabnet and I have chosen to devote much of our stage space to that image and hope it will enhance the story. Additionally, we've created a set that starts as wide open and airy as possible, and compresses, darkens, and imprisons Thérèse as the world closes around her. I explored French period interiors, but in the end used images by the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershoi, which captured the stark emotion of this story better than the drapery filled apartments of mid-nineteenth-century Paris. The emotional feel of the scenic visuals seemed more interesting to us in telling this story than strict anthropological adherence to the historically correct look.


Jane Greenwood - Costume Designer

Greenwood's design sketch for THERESE RAQUIN.

Greenwood's design sketch for the title character in THERESE RAQUIN.

First I read Émile Zola’s book, which is a fascinating study of this bourgeois family in 1868 France. The play has captured a great sense of the story and a strong feel for the period, so it has been so interesting to bring these characters to life through their clothes. While we were fitting Keira Knightley, who is playing the title role, we talked about Thérèse’s love of the river and her clothes being somewhat fluid and unhampered. 1868 was a period of great constriction in women's clothing. For Keira and I, that was not of interest. In the period, there were people who were critical of the current fashion and its restrictive nature, so we looked to them for research. Thérèse's clothes came from this research, which helped us develop a simplicity and functionality that works well for the character.

Greenwood's design sketch for Laurent in THERESE RAQUIN.

Greenwood's design sketch for Laurent in THERESE RAQUIN.

The color palette is inspired by the murky river bottom: grays, muddy greens, browns. We bring a little color in with Suzanne because I feel that she should represent a more conventional woman of the time. There’s much talk in the play about Suzanne’s dresses -- so she is much more decorative than the other women, in particular Thérèse, which provides an interesting contrast. I keep turning the pages of our costume research, looking at the characters and photographs from the period -- with particular interest in the tension created between the person and the often restrictive clothing they wear. It occurred to me that the attraction Thérèse and Laurent have for each other is completely visceral and has nothing to do with the clothes. You get a sense that they look at each other and all they want to do is take their clothes off. So much of my responsibility for this project has been designing clothes for Thérèse and Laurent that they can wear, take off, and then put on again without any help!


Keith Parham - Lighting Designer

Set model for THERESE RAQUIN.

Set model for THERESE RAQUIN.

The lighting of this piece has been about finding the balance between the operatic scale of what is happening in Thérèse's head and the intimate realities of where the scenes are set. These two states are in a dance with each other through the entire piece, and each has to be constantly given the correct amount of weight. Designing lighting for this play has meant a process of searching for how to appropriately use the large canvas of the set in relation to the very small canvases of the scenes. We have to find the ways and means in which a scene lit by a single candle is harmonious with the psychological space of the theatre and the ways in which they are juxtaposed.


Josh Schmidt - Original Composition and Sound

When considering these elements within the body of this classic tale, it is easy to lapse into period appropriate music -- lush, pre-Impressionistic soundscapes inspired by the same artists that fuel Zola’s writing. But to implement this material into this design would be disingenuous, and in the process turn this piece into the tawdry melodrama that is something we all want to avoid. The world Thérèse inhabits is limited in so many ways -- a shaft of light here and there, the dingy streets of the Pont Neuf, the sound a distant barrel organ, the walls of people across the river bank, the sound of water rushing downstream…all of these carry so much weight within her inner psychology that the starkness of their presentation truly must be explored. Poetically, what music churns out of that should be (and will be) surprisingly contemporary, unexpected…variously subtle and pronounced as she sinks deeper and deeper into a vortex of lust and guilt.

Thérèse Raquin is now playing through January 3 at Studio 54. For tickets and more information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2015-2016 Season, Therese Raquin, Upstage

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