Friday, May 02, 2008

How Safe Did Critics Feel Dangereuses Revival Played It?

How Safe Did Critics Feel Dangereuses Revival Played It?

Last evening, the first Broadway revival of Christopher Hampton's Les Liaisons Dangereuses opened at the Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre.

Headlined by Laura Linney and Ben Daniels, the play is helmed by British director Rufus Norris. Other cast members include Jessica Collins, Mamie Gummer and Siân Phillips.

Critical reaction was mixed. All seemed to enjoy Daniels' Rialto debut.

Concluding that "the game remains eminently well worth watching," New York Post's Clive Barnes awards this production three out of four stars: "As revived last night by the Roundabout, Christopher Hampton's play is sensual, oddly naughty and totally, impassively immoral. That sensuality is neatly caught by Rufus Norris' elegantly paced staging and the leads: the couthly chilly Laura Linney, as La Marquise de Merteuil, and a splendiferous Ben Daniels, enjoyably snakelike as the urbane Le Vicomte de Valmont.... [T]he sheer joyous relish he takes in a wickedness he can't stop, even when his happiness and life depend on it, is horrifically convincing. Rather less convincing is Linney's unbroken hauteur as the vengeful, conniving Marquise."

Calling the revival "naughty, provocative fun," Elysa Gardner of USA Today also offers a three star review: "The stars of this revival ... are worthy inheritors. Linney portrays the impervious elegance of a certain type of society woman as ably as (Glenn) Close did. But Linney also transmits an inescapable warmth, making the Marquise's ability to disarm her victims completely convincing, while giving us scrupulously subtle glimpses of her enduring ardor for Valmont. The witty Daniels, in contrast, seems impenetrable, at least until we grasp the full extent of Valmont's feelings for the virtuous Madame de Tourvel, whose honor he intends to destroy for reasons more complicated than he realizes. When forced to confront his love for this married woman, and how he has hurt her, Daniels powerfully evokes his ravaging guilt and regret."

Hailing this as a "sturdy and stylish revival," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News gives the production three out of five stars: "Laura Linney steps into the role and delivers a mesmerizing performance as she all but disappears into pre-revolutionary France of the 1780s.... British actor Ben Daniels is bold and lusty ... as the ravenous Valmont.... Director Rufus Norris ... keeps the intricate plot lines flowing, and his smart use of music (servants double as singers) adds texture and commentary."

Noting how "this delicious tournament of sex and power never gets old," Variety's David Rooney says the production "proves resilient -- despite some heavy-handed directorial choices and one crucial piece of miscasting.... Norris initially appears to put a starchy stamp on the material, allowing dead air to punctuate the dialogue. But this is soon revealed to be a choice tailored in particular around Linney's approach to Merteuil.... At first it seems she's not having enough fun with the role's lip-smacking villainy, but her attitude makes sense for a woman who has parlayed her impenetrable detachment and knack for listening into a supreme art.... The big problem in the drama's central triumvirate is the object of that love. Collins is sorely inadequate and unaffecting as Madame de Tourvel.... Grace, piety and vulnerability -- all are lacking in Collins' work here...."

Lauding a "sensational Broadway debut," Ben Brantley of The New York Times is charmed by at least one of the leads: "Mr. Daniels provides both the silliest and most serious rendering I’ve seen of Valmont.... His warm, fluid performance reflects what would appear to be Mr. Norris’s intention: to turn up the temperature in a work of famously icy cynicism. Unfortunately no one else in this revival approaches Mr. Daniels’s level of complexity, including Ms. Linney, a wonderful actress who has been shoehorned into a part out of her natural range and is perceptibly pinched.... Here she is required to wear a mask of hypocrisy, and it doesn’t fit."

Lamenting that the show "eventually proves numbing," Eric Grode of The New York Sun takes aim at the icey chill be saw in the production : "It's as if Ms. Linney worked so hard to squelch her innate warmth, with the British import Mr. Daniels following suit, that the brittle badinage and machinations are all that remain.... Mr. Norris ... emphasizes the endless connivings between this pair to the exclusion of any of the rawer, less epigrammatic emotions that accompany Valmont's ostensible upheaval. These two have become so numbed to the possibility of actual romantic love that their increasingly fraught rendezvous are reduced to mere pique. No matter how alluring Mr. Daniels's cocktail of preening vanity and disingenuous sensitivity becomes, this unwillingness to honor at least the possibility of emotional transcendence robs this Liaisons of a crucial layer of humanity."

I'll be taking in the production myself over the next few days and will offer my own SOB Review shortly thereafter. This limited run production is scheduled through June 29.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Les Liaisons Dangereuses' Latest Broadway Affair Opens (May 1, 2008)
The 1,400 Steps (March 17, 2008)

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