Schreiber and Janet McTeer
by Julia Polinsky
a French novel published in 1782, Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses
sets the scene in France, in the 1780s. A pair of bored and jaded Parisian
aristocrats, former lovers Marquise de Merteuil (Janet McTeer) and Vicomte de
Valmont (Liev Schreiber), decide to entertain themselves with a game of
revenge, betrayal, destruction – just another day in the life for them.
Scheiber with Birgitte Hjort Sorensen photos by Joan Marcus
the deal by adding a wager: if Valmont can seduce Madame de Tourvel, (Birgitte
Hjort Sorensen), a young wife famous for her purity and piety, and provide
written proof, the Marquise will yield herself to Valmont for a night of
passion. De Merteuil adds in one “little favor,” and asks Valmont to seduce
Celine (Elena Kampouris), the convent-raised daughter of a friend – ruining the
girl will be revenge against her fiancé, one of Merteuil’s former lovers.
Schreiber with Elena Kampouris
seduces the virtuous wife, debauches the 15-year old girl, and piles lie upon
lie, betrayal on betrayal. De Merteuil encourages Celine to accept Valmont as
a teacher in the sexual arts, while herself seducing Celine’s beloved, the
woodenheaded young Chevalier Danceny (Raffi Barsoumian).
the end of the play, we’ve seen rape, ruin, revenge, and a rapier-duel. Yet,
brittle sophistication glosses over the disastrous results of the malicious
games these people played. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose,
going into the future.
evil games we watch play out against scenic and costume designer Tom Scutt’s
magnificent set, which tells a story all by itself. On the stage: an 18th
century salon after a couple of hundred years without maintenance have done
plaster, faded paint, and peeling wallcoverings appear in lighting designer
Mark Henderson’s atmospheric gloom. Flourescent fixtures -- the harsh light of
modernity -- hover over this scene, with a soundscape of footsteps and slow
wind behind it – Carolyn Downing’s sound design is a knockout. This decrepit
room is clearly set in Today, in effect, the modern-day ghost of what might
have been: magnificence manqué.
the fluorescent light fixtures ascend to the flyspace, as chandeliers – real
ones, with lit candles – descend. A woman in late 18th century dress
walks through the doorway upstage left, shrouded by plastic sheeting, and she
brings the past with her. The layers of time peel like the wallcovering.
is La Marquise de Merteuil. She is also Janet McTeer, giving a performance so embodied,
so layered, and so profoundly modern that she can only fully interact with her
counterpart – the remarkable Liev Schreiber as Le Vicomte de Valmont, who
wastes no time even bothering to try to imitate an 18th century
nobleman, but is as modern as McTeer.
and he have such an accomplished interaction with each other, it’s like
watching a master class in How To Act With Someone Really Good. And yet, they
are oddly detached; for a couple who spend a lot of time talking about
seduction, they hardly seem sexually interested in each other at all. Even when
he has his hand up her skirt – way, way up her skirt -- it seems perfunctory,
rather than passionate.
the intimacy between them can be extreme, as if McTeer and Schreiber are in one
play by themselves, with all the other actors in another. Fascinating to watch,
but not engaging, and not helped by some issues with projecting. Neither their
voices nor energies reach out to the audience; it’s all interior. Beautifully
interior, though. But killer stage performances should suck the audience in,
not just be between actors.
Rourke’s direction preserves the epistolary character of the novel; scene after
scene involves pairs of people, as if they were writing letters to each other.
It also makes for superb performances; when actors can dig into each other in
such depth, it has real impact.
makes the most of cast and set, even the stunning scene changes as the actors
sing as they move furniture to make one salon in Paris, one in the countryside.
Their voices take us from place to place as beautifully as the set and
lighting, and oh, that lighting! Those candles, dripping wax and reflecting in
pendant prisms: it’s as if they provided the only light on the stage.
director uses those candles like a weapon, at the end of act two, when all the
games have played out. After the chandeliers are lowered almost to waist
height, one by one, the women of the cast pinch them out, excepting the last
candle, which the Marquise uses to prove a point. She holds her hand over the
flame, keeps it there longer than can be imagined, and then flattens the light
you’ve seen Les Liaisons Dangereuses before, either on stage or screen,
do yourself a favor and forget it, then go see this perfectly postmodern
production. If you haven’t seen it before, you’re in for a rare treat. Don’t
at the Booth Theater, 222 W. 45th St,
January 22, 2017
$42-159; Telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
at the Booth box office, open Monday-Saturday, 10am-8pm