My Cousin Rachel | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

My Cousin Rachel 

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My Cousin Rachel, Free Associates, at Live Bait Theater. Diana Morgan's 1980 stage version of Daphne du Maurier's 1951 novel captures little of its rich mystery and romance. And though Free Associates artistic director Susan Gaspar proclaims herself a du Maurier devotee, her plodding staging lacks the gothic atmosphere and erotic intensity of this Bronte-esque tale of obsession.

Inspired by du Maurier's own unrequited attraction to the wife of her American publisher, My Cousin Rachel explores the power of passion to warp judgment and destroy friendship. Philip Ashley, the impetuous heir to his uncle Ambrose's estate, suspects Ambrose's Italian widow, Rachel, of being a fortune-hunting femme fatale. But when she arrives in England, Philip is overcome by desire for the beautiful woman ten years his senior--despite nagging fears that she poisoned Ambrose and may do the same to him.

The miscast and unflatteringly costumed lead actors, Scott Antonucci and Adrienne Smith, fail to convey the crucial contrast between the coltish Cornishman and the continental sensualist. Smith's Rachel spends a lot of time sporting a secretive smirk and folding her hands in front of her black-clad bosom, but instead of evoking the Mona Lisa she comes off like a blowsy Mafia matron. Tony Adams's tacky set looks more like a Niles bungalow than a manor house on the wild, windy Cornish coast; if Gaspar had budget constraints, she would have been better off opting for imaginative minimalism rather than community-theater verisimilitude.

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