The Broadway bayou
In the wake of Mardi Gras, students in the Conservatory Theatre Company at Point Park University performed the musical Thou Shalt Not last weekend, with the show’s final performance on Sunday, Feb. 10. Set in post-WWII New Orleans, Thou Shalt Not captures the flavor of the city — rum out of the bottle, southern accents, and sex, among other seasonings. Adapted from the novel Thérèse Raquin by French writer Émile Zola, Thou Shalt Not portrays the consequences of adultery, deceit, and other fundamental sins. The show features a script by David Thompson, who also wrote the new Chicago, and music and lyrics by New Orleans native Harry Connick, Jr.
The story begins when Laurent (senior Rich Binning), a pianist and former soldier, stumbles upon the Raquin house — a combination restaurant and home. The house is maintained by Madame Raquin (senior Julie Connors), perhaps the typical New Orleans woman, with grace, class, and enough balls to put most Yankee boys to shame. Laurent takes a liking to Therese Raquin (senior Kirstie Cook), a sex-starved belle who appears to be Madame’s daughter, and unexpectedly reunites with an old friend, Camille Raquin (senior Kyle Igneczi), Madame’s sickly son.
The night wears on with clamoring and dancing, highlighted by Laurent’s spirited (and suggestive) rendition of “While You’re Young,” featuring the oft-repeated lyric “Love me while you’re young!” In this scene, Laurent succeeds in winning the girl (and the audience) over, only to lose both later in the show. The crowd of customers eventually disperses, leaving Laurent and Therese alone in the restaurant, where they promptly unleash some lip-locking passion. Just when everything is going great, Therese reveals that Madame is not her mother and — more significantly — Camille is not her brother: He’s her husband. Despite this twist, Laurent and Therese proceed to the latter’s bedroom, where they break a rather significant commandment.
All sinning aside, this coital scene was — from a technical standpoint — full of interesting maneuvers. Actors Binning and Cook engaged in a rapturous, body-on-body dance atop a rotating bed in their underwear. The effect was intriguing and certainly memorable, but slightly off the mark; the dance was avant-garde and awkward, but not exactly sensual.
Days pass and Laurent stays with the family, eventually joining Camille and Therese as they hit the town for Mardi Gras. Keep in mind, this is the Mardi Gras of 1946, the first in four years since the war began — so it’s bound to be explosive.
Exuberant with bayou energy, Binning, Igneczi, and Cook, along with the ensemble, perform the electrifying “Take Her To The Madri Gras,” which is, amazingly, almost difficult to sit through — if only it were acceptable for members of the audience to stand up and dance. The number climaxes in a burst of purple, green, and gold and falling confetti, and it seems the only place the night can go is down.
And it does. Laurent, Camille, and Therese settle down for a canoe ride on Lake Pontchartrain. Enchanted with the moment, Camille sings “Tug Boat,” a New Orleans-type lullaby — but Camille does not stay enchanted for long. Abruptly, Laurent stands up in the canoe, knocks Camille into the water, and drowns him.
Shattered by the news of her son’s death, Madame has a stroke and is essentially unable to communicate for the rest of the show — for the audience, this is devastating, as Connors’ performances were definite high-points in the show. The day after the funeral, Laurent embraces Therese, aiming to begin their new life together as soon as possible. But Therese insists that the couple wait a year before getting married (or getting intimate).
One year later, a newly wed Laurent and Therese attempt to do the deed in the bed Therese used to share with Camille (where they’ve done it once before), but neither can stop thinking about the deceased. The audience can’t either, as it happens, as Igneczi returns to the stage dressed in ghostly white and ready to punish the wrongdoers. As the stunted spouses sit terrified in bed, Igneczi performs the charmingly bitter “Oh, Ain’t That Sweet,” sung beautifully and complemented by adept dancing. From here, it’s only a matter of time until both husband and wife wind up dead, driven mad by guilt.
Presenting a colorful, elaborate view of a city our country is still trying to rebuild, Thou Shalt Not succeeded on multiple fronts, with a talented cast, vibrant scenery and costumes, and an excellent work to draw from.