Theatre Is Easy: “The Europeans” and “Therese Raquin”

Written by Theatre, Theatre Is Easy

BOTTOM LINE: Two plays in rep at Atlantic Stage 2 offer intense productions of socially relevant historical dramas.

The mission of Potomac Theatre Project, or PTP/NYC, is to provide audiences with highly theatrical, thought-provoking productions. This summer’s offerings, The Europeans and Therese Raquin, are stylistically different yet similar in theme and tone. Both offer big artistic value in the intimate, underground black box at Atlantic Theater Company.

The Europeans, written by the prolific Howard Barker, tells the tragic story of 1600s Vienna, after a violent clash between Christianity and Islam has pretty much upended society. It’s kind of a love story, it’s kind of a war story, it’s half really sad, and half a farcical romp with lots of laughs.

The program notes point out that Barker’s work doesn’t intend to educate or entertain but rather to “speak immediately to the culture.” I suppose that’s accurate when applied to The Europeans: the takeaway is your personal experience after watching the story unfold over two hours; it’s not supposed to be overintellectualized in a public way. Check it out if you like challenging theatre where you have to actively participate in your own mind. This story isn’t spoon-fed to the audience, although it’s certainly digestible if you’re willing to try.

Therese Raquin is adapted from Emile Zola’s novel, a dark and sultry tale that takes place in 19th-century Paris. Therese is a maladjusted girl who, orphaned at a young age, grows up living with her aunt and her aunt’s sickly son, Camille. She eventually marries Camille, begins to despise him, and reunites with an old family friend with whom she starts a secret affair. Tired of hiding their love, they decide to get rid of Camille so they can be together.

Therese Raquin is perfect horror-movie material, and its presentation is awesomely creepy. Like The Europeans, it’s very theatrical in its storytelling. The set consists of only two chairs, and the eight actors, with the help of great lighting design, fill the space and set each scene with an eerie chill.

Both PTP/NYC shows offer tremendous production value for their ticket price, with clever staging and quality acting. Directors Richard Romagnoli (The Europeans) and Jim Petosa (Therese Raquin) do a fine job exploring their texts without giving too much away. If you’re in the mood for theatre that makes you think, make time to see these plays.

The Europeans and Therese Raquin play at Atlantic Stage 2, 330 W. 16th St., between 8th and 9th avenues. Limited engagement ends Sun 7/26. Remaining performances for The Europeans: Sat 7/18, Thu 7/23, Fri 7/24, and Sun 7/26 at 7:30 PM, and Sun 7/19 and Sat 7/25 at 2 PM. Remaining performances for Therese Raquin: Thu 7/16, Fri 7/17, Sun 7/19, Tue 7/21, Wed 7/22, and Sat 7/25 at 7:30 PM, and Sat 7/18 and Sun 7/26 at 2 PM. Tickets are $20 ($10 for students) and available at ticketcentral.com or by calling 212-279-4200. For more show info visit potomactheatreproject.org.