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Les Liaison Dangereuses

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Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' novel Les Liaison Dangereuses was not originally written as a political treatise, but it became one within a decade of its publication when the French Revolution swept away its world and the decadent lifestyle it portrayed. The numerous play, film. and operatic adaptations of the story have rarely been overtly political, preferring to concentrate on the voyeuristic thrill of watching the monstrous Marquise de Merteuil’s expert manipulations, and her fellow monster, the Vicomte de Valmont’s fatal discovery that he has a heart.

 

Christopher Hampton’s wicked and witty stage adaptation was first produced in 1985, when it was easily enjoyed as both a sumptuous period piece and a critique of Thatcherism. No doubt when choosing the play, the Antaeus Theatre Company saw that it could easily speak to our current political climate. What they could not foresee is the explosive current debate about sexual predators in the Industry.

 

The daily revelations of sexual exploitation, so ubiquitous on social media and the news, can’t help but affect our view of a piece so saturated with sexual power plays. Suddenly Valmont’s honeyed words of seduction produce a sour taste and his callous bedroom conquests pack a visceral wallop that neither Hampton nor Antaeus could have predicted. Plays, of course, reflect the reality of life outside the theater and can move from safety to sudden, brutal relevance based on current events. But it is rare to see a familiar piece experience such a drastic tonal change in such a short time.

Director Robin Larsen heightens associations with the contemporary world by envisioning spare interiors where the characters drift in modern clothing embellished with deliberate period touches. The sound design is devoid of harpsichords, and the projections (terrific work by Yee Eun Nam) harken to 20th Century drawings.

Larsen also urges the cast to flatten the theatricality of Hampton’s dialog. This dulls the sheen on the characters, making them appear more ordinary and less seductive. It also greatly subverts the script’s wit, highlighting the narrative’s cautionary tale aspect.

Henri Lubatti’s Valmont retains some of the character’s theatricality, particularly in his incisive line readings. But Valmont’s sexual charisma is discarded in favor of his predatory nature. The Marquise understands that sex is power, and Reiko Aylesworth’s performance captures the woman’s cold beauty and her intricate deceits. But Aylesworth is unable to find much variety in the character. So, while we understand the cool calculation of both, we never feel the genuine heat of their desires.

There is heat in Lindsay LaVanchy’s Madame de Tourvel, but it comes from the pain and confusion of a woman slowly surrendering her precious morality and, perhaps, her sanity. Elizabeth Rian nicely charts Cecile’s journey from a child with a crush, to the woman who survives Valmont’s assault. Josh Breslow’s Danceny is affable enough, but he feels fully formed from his entrance. We miss the character’s growth from a stammering schoolboy to the Marquise’s prize pupil.

Liaisons Dangereuses has never been a safe boulevard comedy, but this nihilistic production puts its emphasis on the “danger.” Perhaps that is the only responsible way to view these characters and their sexual machinations. But for audiences familiar with earlier, more seductive productions, you should know that any laughs will have a queasy undertone.

As with all Antaeus shows, the roles are partner cast. This review reflects The Libertines cast, but during the run one might see various combinations of the two casts.

Kiki and David Gindler Performing Arts Center    October 26 – December 10, 2017    www.Antaeus.org


 

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.