Since its initial 1987 Broadway debut with Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman, Les Liasions Dangereuses has returned to the Booth Theatre starring Janet McTeer and Liev Schreiber. A performance filled with the underbelly of intrigue and sexual manipulation of ancien régime France comes from Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos’ 1787 novel.
Directed by Josie Rourke, Dangereuses witty lines and scintillating tales scurry across the stage in beautiful period garb designed by Tom Scutt. Scutt also designed the unit set that resembles an old art gallery—the walls peeling and gorgeous paintings lying about, waiting to be properly marveled at.
Janet McTeer plays La Marquise de Merteuil, a happily widowed aristocrat who gains her pleasure from the power she imposes on others—her success measured only by the misery and destruction that falls before her. Expertly, she hides her intentions behind her perfect mannerisms and military-like strategy. Her aim is to exercise the only power she can possibly possess as a woman and achieve its ends better than a man. Her competitor is Liev Schreiber, Le Vicomte de Valmont, serially unwed and searching for the highest conquests to earn him fame and legend (from his loins). His intentions only hidden by his quick wit and easy command of a woman’s virtue (or lack thereof).
Their major victims are a 15-year-old virgin, Cecile Valanges (Elena Kampouris), her true love Le Chevalier Danceny (Raffi Barsoumian), and a happily married and virtuous woman Madame de Tourvel (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen). La Marquise desires revenge on a former lover and tasks Valmont to deflower Cecile before her impending marriage and Valmont wishes to become an irresistible yearning of Madame de Tourvel; enough for her to drop her religious afflictions and leave her husband. A feat he views as the height of his career; so impossible that only he can achieve its end.
What ensues is Schreiber and McTeer commanding the stage and performance. Each one pulled from the audience a sense of overarching foreboding and hopelessness. Rourke was careful to include comedic relief wherever possible. The acting was without flaw and the play itself a dark undertaking where characters shed their innocence, their feelings of true love and desires for the art of the game.
Difficult as it is to bring all aspects of a novel to life, Les Liaisions Dangereuses does its best and is graced with a very capable cast. While there was a lot of comedy and talent to bridge the gaps of a thin plot and overt hideous intentions that did not always run deeper, Dangereuses opened an eye to the musical chairs of lovers and destroyers of pre-revolution France.
Review By: Alex Lipari
Photos By: Joan Marcus