Keira Knightly is no stranger to playing characters in adaptations of classic literature so it's no wonder that, in her Broadway debut, she would choose to play another interesting female from the classics. Her latest delve into the classics is the role of Thérèse Raquin, a young woman stuck in a loveless marriage and thrown into a world of passion, deceit and murder when she falls for her husband's friend, Laurent, from Émile Zola's classic novel, "Thérèse Raquin."
Knightly's much-anticipated debut on Broadway, however, did not really produce clear reaction. On the one hand, some critics and audience members applauded her performance and thought she did a marvelous job and, while some believed she was overshadowed by the brilliant and very apt set design.
There is, of course, an agreement with how Knightly was not given that many lines especially in the first act but that could be the production's way to paint a picture of how monotonous and uninteresting Thérèse's life is prior to meeting Laurent. Perhaps Knightly's performance of the repression Thérèse felt can best be summed up in her line "Let me live," spoken to the river prior to the Raquin's move from the countryside to Paris.
Much of the criticisms seem to stem from the lack of tension and overplayed subtlety and here are just a few of the negative reviews the production received.
"There's a detachment between the stars I can only describe as fatal... Thérèse Raquin is a sexless bore," one critic, Jeremy Gerard, wrote.
Terry Teachout from The Wallstreet Journal has a similar opinion. "As for Ms Knightley, she gives the kind of flat, underprojected performance," Teachout wrote.
"[Knightly] seems oddly flat here, though predictably shapely in the period costuming and somehow charismatic for all her lack of affect," Alexis Soloski wrote.
However, the reviews are not all bad and many who watched admired Knightly's portrayal.
"Knightley segues from playing one of the great adulteresses of European literature in Anna Karenina to another, with a tremulous commitment that prevents you from taking your eyes off her," The Hollywood Reporter wrote.
"Knightley's commitment to this latest part is never in doubt... she communicates the sullen intensity of a woman not easily given over to cheer" The Telegraph expresses in a similar fashion.
"Knightley and Ryan are ravishing - and articulate" Variety wrote.
With one group cheering the performance and another left unsatisfied, is there really a reason to watch the play? The answer is, of course, yes there is. Émile Zola himself said that his novel's goal was to "study temperaments and not characters" and what better way to discover if Knightly and the rest of cast were able to capture those temperaments than to watch them in action, right?