Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Pierre Choderlos de Laclo’s famous novel of the scandalous doings of a certain set of amoral French aristocrats published in 1782 ten years before the bloody French Revolution, brought in a new kind of character. According to novelist Andre Malraux, the characters created by Laclos were “without precedent.” Christopher Hampton’s theatrical adaptation was first produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London in 1985, then on Broadway in 1987. Hampton’s 1988 cinema adaptation, Dangerous Liaisons, garnered multiple Oscar nominations and three wins with a stellar cast that included John Malkovich, Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, Uma Thurman and others.
Antaeus Theatre Company’s production, which features its well-known double casts, eschews the luxury of a full blown costume drama with hideously expensive replicas of the finery of the ancient régime, going instead for high-style modern elegance that suggests the past quite effectively. Two of the principal males are seen at lights up sporting poniards strapped to their waists, which lets the audience know the time is not now. Also, the showing of weapons in the first scene brings to mind an old theatrical maxim attributed to Anton Chekhov, “‘If in Act I you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act.” The audience will not be disappointed.
In brief, two ex-lovers, the Marquise de Merteuil (Elyse Mirto) and Vicomte de Valmont (Scott Ferrara), use sexual seductions to gain power and no small amount of fame among a certain set of Parisians. To satisfy their lusts, they play a game with human pawns for sport and revenge that have dire consequences for those so used. Merteuil sets Valmont to deflower a young girl just out of the convent, Cécile de Volanges (Chelsea Kurtz), in order to pay back the girl’s fiancé, Merteuil’s former lover, who spurned her. Cécile, in her sad innocence, has fallen for her music instructor, the Chevalier Danceny (Paul Culos). Cécile is road kill to Valmont, whose sights are set on a virtuous married woman, Madame de Tourvel (Liza Seneca). Merteuil urges Valmont on, promising to spend the night with him if he provides her with written proof of his success.
There are appearances by Cécile’s mother, Madame de Volanges (Bellina Logan), a good friend of Valmont’s aunt, Madame de Rosemonde (Anne McNaughton). Valmont’s valet, Azolan (Chad Borden) is just as loyally unscrupulous as his master and the courtesan, Émilie (Ellis Greer), makes herself enthusiastically available to Valmont for a price. Paul Stanko is the Majordomo and Christopher Tilley is the Footman.
The language of the play is, as one might expect, formal in tone, save for the two-character scenes of high passion. The lead characters are poseurs, highly aware of how they are perceived. Elyse Mirto as La Marquise de Merteuil dominates the stage with her smooth presence, fluid in action and speech. Scott Ferrara as Valmont is aggressively physical with sexual targets, all hands and mouth, which renders his victims, sooner or later, powerless to resist. It is disturbing to witness, as it should be.
Antaeus Theatre Company’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses is powerful theatre with an excellent cast under the sure handed direction of Robin Larsen. The open set and splendid projections by Yee Eun Nam is simple, with elegant touches like the marble floor that looks appropriately rich. The Antaeus Theatre Company’s award-winning creative team also includes lighting designer Leigh Allen, costume designer Jocelyn Hublau Parker, sound designer Jeff Polunas, props designer Erin Walley, violence designer Ned Mochel, movement designer Heather Allyn, and hair designer Jessica Mills.
Les Liaisons Dangereuse runs through December 10 with the two casts in rotating rep at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, 110 East Broadway in Glendale.