Los Angeles Theater Review: LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES (Antaeus Theatre in Glendale)

by Samuel Garza Bernstein on October 30, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles

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THE SEXUAL POLITICS OF SAVAGES

Who would have imagined that a 30-year-old stage adaptation (by Christopher Hampton) of a 1782 novel (by Choderlos de Laclos) would be so devastatingly of the moment. In a time when sexual harassment, abuse, and assault are at the center of a national conversation many hope will bring about overdue societal changes, Les Liaisons Dangereuses reflects our times more aptly than anyone might wish.

The plot is essentially a fancy dress soap opera; and I mean that in no way dismissively. The characters behave utterly unlike human beings, and that’s the fun of it. Though what seemed 30 years ago like amusing coercion now sits solidly in the category of rape. The bored and quite sneaky Marquise de Merteuil challenges her former lover, the notorious Vicomte de Valmont to deflower Cécile Volanges, a virgin fresh out of the convent, soon to be married to a man with whom the Marquise is angry. Valmont would prefer to seduce Madame de Tourvel, a matron renowned for her piety. One thing leads to another, and he sets his sights on them both.

Cécile and de Tourvel are a diversion, a way to ignite their own passions perhaps. Sexual power is particularly important to the Marquise, since she regards it as the only true power a woman can have. When she realizes that Valmont has fallen in love with de Tourvel, it cuts her to the quick. The battles and bloodshed that follow reveal surprising depths of emotion. The play doesn’t have the spectacular final scene in Stephen Frear’s film adaptation, where Glenn Close as the Marquise is publicly unmasked, but it ends with that mask askew if not completely displaced.

In Antaeus Theatre Company’s production, director Robin Larsen has chosen a time fusion, with suggestions of 18th-century costuming and set pieces, techno music intervals, and modern hair styles. It mostly works, though for some reason costume designer Jocelyn Hublau Parker has chosen extremely unflattering chunky heels for most of the women, inhibiting their ability to glide gracefully. And composer and sound designer Jeff Polunas’s music is sometimes bombastic.

Elyse Mirto is a terrific La Marquise de Merteuil. She has the beauty and grace the character requires, and the ability to lie convincingly on stage with simplicity and sincerity. She nails the final beat of the Marquise’s humiliation. Scott Ferrara is a stealthy Valmont, twisting his words with appropriately less sincerity than Mirto, but an equal amount of grace. They have a white heat together that suits Valmont’s mixture of effete artifice and manly aggression.

As Madame de Tourvel, Liza Seneca gives a touching performance, making the character’s bewilderment and pain immediate and real. Chelsea Kurtz is effective, though she has the difficult task of taking Cécile from virgin to sexual sophisticate. The script gives the transformation too little time, and given the (apt) decision to play her deflowering as the rape it clearly is, that shift becomes even less easy to comprehend; this is no fault of Kurtz. Ellis Greer does a saucy turn as a tart with no discernible heart of gold.

In a play where just about everyone is supposed to be having sex with someone or other, there is less testosterone among the supporting players than I’d like, making some of their conversations about sex fall flat. But Mirto and Ferrara are never too long offstage, their savage wit never totally obscuring their loneliness. (Antaeus double casts. This review reflects “The Lovers.”)

photos by Geoffrey Wade Photography

Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Antaeus Theatre Company
Gindler Performing Arts Center, 110 East Broadway in Glendale
Thurs and Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2
ends on December 10, 2017
for tickets, call 818.506.1983 or visit Antaeus

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