Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Review Posted: Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Centerstage has posted my review of Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons), which Remy Bumppo is doing at the Greenhouse Theatre Center. This play (and the film adaptation) is one of my very favorites, and it was great to finally see it live. It wasn't perfect, true, but it's still a smashing entertainment. It's not to everyone's taste, but I had a wonderful time. If you enjoy pretty clothes and ugly souls, go. Here's the text:

For some theatergoers, "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," adapted by Christopher Hampton from Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' notorious 1782 novel, is irresistible: witty people in gorgeous clothes behaving horribly toward each other. It's tremendously malicious entertainment, great fun until the human cost becomes distressingly clear. Some argue that it's all a little hollow, or that the moral reckoning comes too late, but in a strong production — and despite a few problems, this is a very strong production — the play just works. It's hard to argue with a show this tasty.

Le Vicomte de Valmont (Nick Sandys) and Mme. De Merteuil (Rebecca Spence), friends and former lovers in prerevolutionary France, pass their time by seducing, manipulating, and destroying unsuspecting victims. Merteuil, seeking revenge on a man who spurned her, sets Valmont the task of deflowering Cecile (Margaret Katch), 15 and just out of the convent, while he aims for Mme. De Tourvel (Linda Gillum), famed for her happy marriage and strong religious convictions. The plans work at first, but soon go wrong, with ghastly consequences.

Hampton's adaptation remains a wonder; the plotting is clear and frequently gripping, it's full of hilarious, quotable lines, and it generally handles the transition from comedy to tragedy well (though the Valmont/Tourvel relationship doesn't quite work). Embracing the story's excesses, director David Darlow keeps the action fast and fluid (the play feels far shorter than its 2:45 running time), and is helped by superb designs, with Emily Waecker's sumptuous costumes particularly standing out. With one unfortunate exception (Gillum, oddly flat), the performances capture the play's arch, barbed tone perfectly, with Sandys, languid and deadly as a coiled snake, Spence, steely behind her sweet facade, and Katch, far more than the silly girl she appears, particularly standing out.

There's little redeeming social value, but it would be hard to find a more seductive look at humanity's very worst impulses.

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