‘Les Liaisons’ In Tuxedos And Evening Gowns
“Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” the 18th-century French novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos about aristocratic power games and the lives they affect, has been adapted into every form imaginable. It can boast of at least seven versions on film, including two set in Korea, an opera, a radio series, and even a ballet. But it is the Christopher Hampton stage adaptation that has garnered the most attention in the Western world, first as a successful Broadway production and then as a successful Hollywood film in the 1980s.
And it is a version of Hampton’s “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” that can be seen at the Southampton Cultural Center through April 1.
Michael Disher’s production is set at some vague time in the 1920s or ’30s, and features Brooke Alexander as la Marquise de Merteuil and Seth Hendricks as le Vicomte de Valmont, ex and future lovers in a sexual game of chess using hapless innocents as pawns for their amusement. Originally intended as an indictment of the French nobility’s deviant ways, this production demonstrates that it works just as well in tuxedos and evening gowns as it did with powdered wigs and buckles.
The set features a simple system of white pillars and pedestals that the servants move for the scene changes. A ruched swag hangs in the background, effectively lit in purple, orange, and other bright colors to signify the change from place to place. All in all, the minimal set gives the production an airy elegance.
Mr. Disher’s decision to start each scene with the actors in silhouette is reminiscent of the traditional silhouette portraits of French nobility in the 18th century, subliminally tying this production to its roots.
Ms. Alexander gives a powerful performance as Merteuil, gliding around the stage in lovely backless gowns and speaking over her shoulder at Valmont. When she says, “Love is something you use, not something you fall into like quicksand,” she means it. Her objective, to ruin the intended nuptials of a lover by having Valmont seduce the bride before the wedding, never falters.
Mr. Hendricks is onstage in almost every scene, and his energy is unwavering until the end. He plays Valmont as a jaded upper crust gadabout whose spark is rekindled only during his repartee with Merteuil or during the thrill of the chase. Having seen Mr. Hendricks in three very different productions in the past year, it is clear that he is one of the most versatile actors in the East End’s theater community, and this role is his strongest so far. Having said that, he seemed to lose focus during the last few scenes but it was opening night and his performance has no doubt tightened up since then.
The rest of the cast is also very good: Barbara-Jo Howard as Madame de Volanges and Julie King as her daughter, the innocent Cecile; Kasia Klimiuk as Madame la Présidente de Tourvel, the tragic and unwilling object of Valmont’s affection, Bonnie Grice as the sensual Emilie, and Adam Fronc as the fresh-faced and guileless Danceny. Vincent Carbone, Charles Parshley, and Susan Cincotta round out the ensemble.
There are a few minor strikes against the show, including unnecessary British accents that come and go as easily as Valmont’s affections, but none of them noticeably detract from what is essentially a strong production of a timeless tale.