Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Les Liaisons Dangereuses (The SOB Review)

Les Liaisons Dangereuses (The SOB Review) – American Airlines Theatre, Roundabout Theatre Company, New York, NY

**1/2 (out of ****)

As if to underscore the obvious fact that double entendre is at its deepest etymological roots a very French term, director Rufus Norris’ dazzling-looking revival of Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses rarely goes for the merely sensuales when downright risqué can do. How else to explain the flatulence episode?

Mind you, it’s easy to be completely swept away by Scott Pask’s sumptuous set design, which -- complemented by Katrina Lindsay’s exquisite 18th Century costumes, Donald Holder’s sparkling lighting and Paul Arditti’s haunting sound design -- is mesmerizingly evocative of Parisian prestige worthy of Marie Antoinette herself. This is one gorgeous feast for the eyes.

So it’s too bad that the chief players in this double-crossing, double-dealing double entendre-packed play somehow get double-parked, somehow forgetting that sophisticated sensuality at its essence is what ultimately begets sexuality. After all, didn't the French practically invent romance?

As much as I adore the versatility (no pun intended) of Laura Linney’s body of work -- and her frigid take as La Marquise de Merteuil is ice solid to be sure -- in order for her characterization here to be truly believable, she needs to exhibit more of a temptress seeking release, or at least one completely capable of luring would-be suitors into the dangerous web she's weaving.

Sparring with Ben Daniels’ silly Le Vicomte de Valmont, her once and potentially future lover, strains credulity. Rather than presenting himself as a lethal lothario extraordinaire, Daniels instead comes across as a personification of Lippy the Lion. I was half expecting this unexpectedly tri-sexual character (who might try anything) to announce at various junctures, "Exit, stage left.”

While the heavy lifting is left to Les Liaisons Dangereuses' supporting players, they quite fortunately are up to the task.

Celebrated Welsh actress Siân Phillips commands the stage as Valmont's aunt Madame de Rosemonde. Jessica Collins provides a heartbreaking turn as La Présidente de Tourvel as she's caught in the crossfire between La Marquises and Valmont. Kristine Nielsen offers a clear-eyed innocence as Madame de Volanges. And best of all is the invigorating Mamie Gummer in her memorable comedic Broadway debut; Gummer steals the show in every scene as the young virgin Cécile Volanges, who turns from initial repulsion toward sexual activity to an eager beaver in every sense of the word.

Nevertheless, the preeminent star of this revival is not a performer, but the magnificent, beautiful design elements. In fact, the actors in the final scene where La Marquises' treachery has been discovered are literally overshadowed by Pask’s brilliant use of the production's knotted curtain chords turned into a web that ultimately hangs entangled over her head.

It's one less than debauched double entendre that points to how potentially dangerous and captivating this revival could have been.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
How Safe Did Critics Feel Dangereuses Revival Played It? (May 2, 2008)
Les Liaisons Dangereuses' Latest Broadway Affair Opens (May 1, 2008)
The 1,400 Steps(March 17, 2008)

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At 06 May, 2008, Blogger E said...

I can't believe you said "eager beaver."

At 07 May, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

E, If Les Liaisons Dangereuses can use double entendres, why can't I?! Seriously, Mamie Gummer was the best thing about this show. Can't wait to see her again.


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