Based on the 1782 novel by French author Pierre Choderlos de Lacios, LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES was first adapted to the stage by German playwright Heiner Muller. In 1985, it was again adapted for the stage by playwright Christopher Hampton and premiered in 1987, soon followed by a Broadway production. In fact, this deliciously sexy, saucy, and very sensual tale of love and revenge has been adapted into a musical, an opera, a ballet, radio and television programs, and a 1959 French film directed by Roger Vadim which updated the action to the 1950’s. In 1988, the story made its way across the Atlantic to become a U.S. film production which was subsequently nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.
LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES is a racy narrative which has captured the fancy of multiple generations over decades dating from the eighteenth century. As the play opens, it is 1782 in France – just seven years before the storming of the Bastille in Paris, that violent event which marked the beginning of the French Revolution. The Marquise de Merteuel (Elyse Mirto) and the Vicomte de Valmont (Scott Ferrara) are aristocratic, psychopathic ex-lovers who escape boredom by playing cruel sex games to manipulate and destroy those around them. To borrow words from the Marquise’s mouth, “Love is something you use.” This amoral pair concoct seductive schemes to play with others’ lives and, even better, exact revenge.
Valmont has his eye on the virtuous, religious, and very married La Presidente de Tourvel (Liza Seneca). What better victim for seduction than a woman who will be forced to deny every principle for which she stands. Meanwhile, the Marquise wants revenge against the man who unceremoniously dumped her in the past. What more fitting way than to seduce and despoil Cecile Volanges (Chelsea Kurtz), his virginal, 15-year-old fiancée who has just left the convent where she was raised to prepare for their marriage. And so the scheming duo plot and plan how to bring down others while having a delectable, delightful, and even luscious time doing it.
LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES has some very complex roles which are brilliantly depicted by the cast under the capable direction of Robin Larsen. Both verbally and nonverbally, they excel. Particularly the two principals will make you hate them even as you can’t help but smile at their machinations. Although the action is set at the end of the eighteenth century, the fundamental issues are ones which will resonate with contemporary audiences – the exploitation of women, the inequality of the sexes when it comes to shame and blame, the blind eye paid to the “upper one percent” when breaking society’s rules, and the role and justification of revenge.
But such a tasty serving also comes with some dodgy flavors. Despite being set in 1782 – projected clearly by words on the stage backdrop – the costumes were a motley collection, including an eighteenth-century female aristocrat dressed in pants and an ingénue wearing a white tulle tutu. This reviewer was distracted – rather than intrigued – by the anachronistic outfits worn. The stage also seemed over-large and populated with small groupings of furniture which did little to convey the sumptuous fittings of the aristocracy of the time. Despite these possible shortcomings, LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES remains riveting and well worth an evening at the theater. As always, the production is partner cast; the reviewed production was “The Lovers” cast. Audience Alert: This is definitely an adults only production.
LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES runs through December 10, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays (extra performance at 8 p.m. on December 10 only). The Kiki and David Gindler Performing Arts Center is located at 110 East Broadway, Glendale, CA 91205. Tickets range from $30 to $34. For information and reservations, call 818-506-1983 or go online.