note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi
La Marquise de Merteuil … Tasha Lawrence
Mme. de Volanges … Ann Talman
Cécile Volanges … Louisa Krause
Major-domo … James Bodge
Le Vicomte de Valmont … Michael T. Weiss
Azolan … Seth Fisher
Mme. de Rosemonde … Alice Duffy
La Présidente de Tourvel … Yvonne Woods
Émilie … Jennie Israel
Le Chevalier Danceny … Jeff Barry
Footman … Jacob Green
Maid … Juliet Totten
Christopher Hampton’s dramatization of Choderlos de Laclos’ LES LIAISION DANGEREUSES was the only Broadway production where I departed at intermission (I refer to the acclaimed British import of the late 1980s); at the time, I thought Mr. Hampton’s play was a travesty of de Laclos’ novel about two French libertines of the eighteenth century, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, who alter the course of two young lovers and destroy a virtuous wife partly out of revenge, partly out of pleasure, and who later turn on each other when Love enters their cat-and-mouse game. I am not so much of a purist that I cannot appreciate tinkering where tinkering is due --- I once saw the late Charles Ludlum stand Flaubert’s SALAMBO on its head and have mad, campy fun with it --- but de Laclos’ novel, told entirely in letters and diaries, chills with its darkly amusing probes into the human heart and the various masks worn over it; Mr. Hampton turned the novel into a Regency romp, peppered with elementary innuendos, with the villains brought center stage to be chuckled over while the young lovers are reduced to ninnies and the wife, a whining pill. Most fatal of all, Mr. Hampton either failed to set up or chose to ignore the novel’s hypocritical era when a girl’s virginity and a woman’s honor were prized possessions, on one hand, and where one could bed-hop so long as one didn’t get caught, on the other; stripped of its context, there is little horror in the villains debauching their victims for isn’t sex both hot and fun, and the more the merrier, oui? I never saw the movie, either, with a screenplay by Mr. Hampton based upon his play; should a musical arise, chances are Mr. Hampton will supply the libretto and move even further from de Laclos’ elegance and wisdom.
I sat through all of the Huntington Theatre’s production, this time around, though other members of the audience did not --- the good news is that Mr. Hampton’s LIASONS works as a cold mind-game, all on its own; the bad news is that the production is terrible, with some mind-boggling miscasting and misdirection that become all the more glaring when played out on Boston University’s epic stage. Since seduction is the theme, there should be a sense of pulsating flesh beneath the courtly garb but director Daniel Goldstein offers chunks of frozen meat, instead, and none of it thaws in time for proper consumption. Within seconds --- seconds! --- I could tell that Tasha Lawrence was all wrong as the Marquise, who must be the world’s smiling confidante on the surface but a gliding shark underneath; Ms. Lawrence brings the stoniest face, the flattest voice and the most brazen contempt to the role --- all she lacks is a “BITCH” sign about her neck. Michael T. Weiss is clearly meant to become the Huntington’s stud with his Pale in BURN THIS, several seasons ago, and now his Valmont --- considering the character has four women dancing around his penis, you would expect a figure whose very spit would seem like ejaculation, but Mr. Weiss, a handsome-enough lug, does little more than kick the plot forward like a soccer ball and declaim in an voice composed of gravel and grease; when paired against Ms. Lawrence’s nattering, the eardrums suffer. As the idiotic Cécile, Louisa Krause gets to ruffle the audience with a willy-nilly burst of nudity and the ASP’s Jennie Israel makes her Huntington debut by descending the stairs as a leather-dominatrix --- should Ms. Israel grow any more ample, Mr. Weiss could play checkers on her back, let alone write a letter on it. Two local actors have their moments: Alice Duffy as Valmont’s dignified aunt and James Bodge as a mute Major-domo; both of them look and react in period and gaze upon the action with puzzled tenderness --- they could also be gazing upon the two hours of misguided traffic in which they have found themselves.