“Les Liaisons Dangereuses” is a savory, stylized display of wits and love games with fiendishly-focused performances that genuinely captivate the audience.
The battle of the sexes escalates to epic proportions with tragic consequences in The Warehouse Theatre’s sultry, stylized season finale “Les Liaisons Dangereuses.”
Based on Choderlos de Laclos’ scandalous 1782 novel, this splendid adaptation by Christopher Hampton is the basis of the outstanding film version “Dangerous Liaisons” starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer. The novel also spawned the over-shadowed period drama “Valmont” with Annette Bening and Colin Firth and the contemporized “Cruel Intentions” featuring Reese Witherspoon, among others.
“Les Liaisons Dangereuses” concerns matters of the heart and boudoir and the intriguing love-hate relationship between aristocratic amorous rivals the Marquise de Merteuil (Miranda Barnett) and the Vicomte de Valmont (Paul Savas, The Warehouse’s Executive and Artistic Director in his outing on stage since 2014).
Furious about being spurned by a provincial magistrate in favor of a young virgin fresh out of a convent (Cécile de Volanges played by Giulia Marie Dalbec), Merteuil enlists Valmont in her quest for revenge. She offers herself (and Cecile) to Valmont in a wager if he provides written proof that he has conquered his latest sexual target, the virtuous and married Madame de Tourvel (Debra Capps in her first role on this stage since last year’s “A Streetcar Named Desire).
Though set to marry the wealthier, much older judge, Cecile has fallen for her handsome, but poor, music teacher Chevalier Danceny, a starry-eyed Liam MacDougall, who recently led The Warehouse’s Theatre’s touring production of “Hamlet.”
Through manipulation, deceit and seduction, Merteuil and Valmont play a dangerous game of human chess as they strategically maneuver the other disposable characters around like human pawns and use sex as their weapon of mass destruction.
Barnett, fresh from her comic turn in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” is diabolically delectable in a robust part that easily ranks among the echelons of coveted juicy roles such as Lady Macbeth or Blanche DuBois. She brims with confidence, has flawless articulate delivery and captivatingly commands our attention, and that of her rival when she beckons him in a come hither move from across the stage to kiss her hand.
And when she says “women are obliged to be more skillful than me,” we are reminded of that glass ceiling that extends beyond the bedroom and that infamous quote, “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good?” And luckily, this is not difficult for Merteuil, or Ms. Barnett.
On the surface, Savas is less sinister than previous portrayals of Valmont, but a most formidable and tantalizing opponent in her emotional games. He is equally self-assured and liberated as the devilish playboy who schemes effortlessly and hops from sleeping chamber to sleeping chamber, particularly in the disturbing deflowering scene.
His tug of war with Barnett and the constant shift of power between them is intensified by director Matthew Earnest’s flamboyant treatment of their intimates scenes: they have their own special lighting (by Kevin Frazier), echo-chamber amplification (they are they only actors with body microphones which are used only when they are alone) and sound cues (by Marc Gwinn) of an insidious, low-register rumbling akin to a jet engine from inside an airplane.
Capps is a perfectly stunning Tourvel and portrays her character’s purity, virtue and inner turmoil stridently in a white and rose floral sundress and hat and five-inch heels. Dalbec transforms from an innocent schoolgirl to a nymphomaniac right before our eyes and MacDougall likewise matures from awkward, giddy comic relief in whimsical breeches to an unwavering, full-fledged man of honor.
The talented supporting cast also includes Kelly Wallace (almost unrecognizable from her recent turn as Sonia in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”) as Valmont’s aunt Madame de Rosemonde; Amy Dunlap as Madame de Volanges, Cecile’s overly-protective and pious mother; a saucy Tara Sweeney as the eager courtesan Emilie; and the always steadfast Dave LaPage as Valmont’s devoted page and spy, Azolan.
Earnest’s innovative production is slick with its resoundingly potent dramatic climax and sharp as a guillotine when his two leads tangle and address the audience, and his crew members hide in plain sight on stage. His vision is an amalgam of sparkling modernism and 18th Century conventions: for example, some of the epistolary scenes with a quill and ink have been updated to emails on a laptop.
Charles Murdock Lucas’ tennis court-style stage design is both contemporary and a homage to pre-French Revolution neoclassical architecture (a mammoth mirror-tiled entrance on one end) and the era’s decadence (red velvet curtains on the other) with striking crystal chandeliers on pulleys that rise and lower as needed. The stage is a gleaming glossy white that illuminates and reflects brilliantly with Frazier’s lighting.
William Bezek’s original costumes are magnificently opulent with both modern and classical attributes and accessorized with jewels, gloves, hats and fur.
David Sims is production manager, Emily Lathrop is stage manager, Marc Gwinn is also the composer, Thomas Azar is fight choreographer, Mat Pellegrino is technical director and assistant stage managers are current/former members of The Warehouse Theatre Conservatory: Ryan Barry, Robert Fuson and Chris Smith.
“Les Liaisons Dangereuses” was recently revived by the Donmar Warehouse in London and will transfer to Broadway with Janet McTeer and Liev Schreiber in October.
This show does contain adult themes.
“Les Liaisons Dangereuses” continues through May 28 at the The Warehouse Theatre, 37 Augusta Street in Greenville. Performances are at 8 p.m. May 4-5, 7, 11-14, 18-19, 21, 25-26 & 28. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on May 6, 20 & 27. Sunday matinées are at 3 p.m. on May 8, 15 & 22. Young Professionals Night is Thursday, May 5th with social hour beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets are $30 for general admission and $35 for reserved. Call (864) 235-6948 or visit www.WarehouseTheatre.com.