Les Liaisons Dangereuses: A Duel to Die For

4424Les Liaisons Dangereuses: A Duel to Die For

by Ross

Over at the Booth Theatre a delicate and dangerous dance is going on nightly. A war of the sexes revolving around love, honor, betrayal, and vanity; all on full display here thanks to the incredible Donmar Warehouse. When I was in London earlier this year, i just missed the opportunity of seeing the same production starring Janet McTeer and Dominic West and I was cursing my luck. It had been about thirty years ago when I last saw Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, an award winning play adapted from the 1782 novel of the same title by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos . It was at the Ambassadors Theatre in London with the stellar cast of Olivier Award winning Lindsay Duncan and the late great Alan Rickman. I have a delicious memory of that production that I can still envision to this day.  It was heaven. When Donmar Warehouse announced a transfer from the West End with McTeer starring again as the duplicitous and devious Marquise de Merteuil, with the equally impressive Liev Schreiber stepping in for West as the vain and roguish Vicomte de Valmont, I couldn’t resist.  This definitely sounded like the most perfect dueling match made in Broadway heaven. Two strong statuesque presences circling each other, sparring with that gorgeous sharp dialogue, how could it go wrong.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses    Booth Theatre

I must admit I was disappointed that West wasn’t coming along with McTeer on the voyage across the pond. I heard amazing things about their chemistry and during the New York previews, initially the theatre gossip wasn’t all that positive about the chemistry with Schreiber. That is proved false within minutes of his first interaction. He is riveting in that dastardly role, matching the spectacular McTeer at every jab and thrust. McTeer, a true master of the stage, gives us a woman in full control of each and every devious turn. She looks like she is having the time of her life dueling with Valmont, loving every moment of the game, and we are as well, as this 3 hour play flies by without notice.

Donmar Artistic Director and director of this production, Josie Rourke has not let her guard down and has given us an equally impressive theatrical experience worthy of compare. The majestic set and costume design (Tom Scutt) is perfection, as is the creative and stunning lighting design (Mark Henderson). No one can forget the 1988 movie version of this infamous play. Director Stephen Frears crafted Les Liaisons Dangereuses into an equally famous film, Dangerous Liaisons creating iconic moments of deception with the help of the two leads, Glenn Close and John Malcovich.  But the one face I kept thinking about was Michelle Pfieffer,who played the target of Valmont’s ploy, the married and virtuous Madame de Tourvel.  Here in the Donmar revival, this part is played with a fragile charm by Birgitte Hjort Sorensen. She Les Liaisons Dangereuses    Booth Theatreseems to be the blandest of the bunch, especially when I think of Pfieffer’s magnificent meltdown at the end. Sorensen, making her Broadway debut, was given one of the hardest tasks, making the dull and pious woman fascinating.  Raffi Barsoumian also has a rough time making Le Chevalier Danceny more then just a silly pawn.  The delicious Elena Kampouris (Cecile Volanges), the regal Ora Jones (Madame de Volanges), and the impeccable Mary Beth Peil (Madame de Rosemonde) fare better creating full and dynamic characters. Each craft a character of duality and complexity, very in keeping with this story.
But in the end, it really is all about the two leads and their treacherous schemes. It’s hard to forget the final image of Close’s shattered face in Dangerous Liaisons, but this production will do just that. McTeer grabs us in that last scene and takes control. Demolishing our memories of the film and replacing them with her assured performance. It’s impossible to look away from her.  One can’t help but stand and applaud.
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