LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES began as a 1782 French epistolary novel – the book is composed entirely of letters written by the various characters to each other. It is often claimed to be the source of the saying “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” However, the expression does not actually occur in the original novel in any form. Today, the work is best known in stage form (play by Christopher Hampton) and movie versions (1959 French version; 1988 American version starring Glenn Close & John Malkovich). A recent US semi-modernized stage production directed by Mr. Malkovich received less than stellar reviews while a fully modernized 2012 production by Sydney Theatre Company (AU) garnered rave reviews.
The plot (book, play or film) focuses on rivals and former lovers, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, who use sex as a weapon of humiliation and degradation, all the while enjoying their cruel games and boasting about their manipulative talents. It has been claimed that the novel depicted the decadence of the French aristocracy shortly before the French Revolution, thereby exposing the perversions of the so-called Ancien Régime. However, it has also been described as an amoral story. Regardless of the position taken, the storyline resonates in modern living.
In Chapel Street’s production, the Marquise de Merteuil was deliciously and deftly played by Heather Ferrel. Ferrel cleanly crafted a stealthy, duplicitous character. Her phrasing and presentation met the required quick-pace of the script. Unfortunately, she tended to be alone with that pace. The Marquise’s counterpart, the Vicomte, was satisfactorily portrayed by Dave Hastings. The chemistry between Ferrel and Hastings could be ramped up a bit.
The production, for the most part, is agreeable. Although, there were times I wasn’t sure if the actors were all on the same page. Was it the intent of the director to have characters overact? Should there have been consensus on accents/dialect? Perhaps I missed the reasoning behind specific decisions. I am certain, however, given the audience’s reactions, I was not alone. Modernizing period works is a difficult task; very seldom does it work on a basic level.
Often unremembered are the extras – those playing non-speaking servant roles. In this production, fully costumed servants complete the various small set changes. At first I thought the servants were for the benefit of leads’ costume changes. As there are no costume changes, that proved unfounded. What was proven was that each servant did his/her duties within a nicely formulated character. The simple look at a hastily discarded letter or the care in which a table was set. I even caught a raised eyebrow by one of the maids after an illicit tryst. Kudos!
LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES contains mature themes and, in this production, brief female nudity.
LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES
Written by Christopher Hampton
From the novel by Choderlos de Laclos
Directed by Brian M. Touchette
February 28 – March 8, 2014
Chapel Street Players
27 N. Chapel Street
Newark, DE 19711