Film star Laura Linney is returning to the Broadway stage in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s stylish revival of Christopher Hampton’s brilliant Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The British actor Ben Daniels stars opposite her as one half of the depraved duo that will wreck havoc with others’ lives in pursuit of their own selfish pleasures. The dark comedy, a scathing dissection of the cynicism and decadence of the pre-Revolutionary French aristocracy, is handsomely staged by Rufus Norris. His solid production is an excellent reminder of the malicious delights of Hampton’s take on the decay of French society.
The play is based on the 1782 novel by Choderlos de Laelos and is told as the ultimate battle of the sexes. The story centers on a wager between the manipulative La Marquise de Merteuil (Laura Linney) and her occasional lover Le Vicomte de Valmont (Ben Daniels), a serial womanizer. The Marquise has agreed to grant Valmont a single night of passionate love making, if he is able to seduce the married and virtuous La Presidente de
Tourvel (Jessica Collins). The dark comedy is played out as an elaborate game of chess, where humans are used pawns by the former lovers. Their deadly game will stir illicit passions, including seductions and betrayals, before ending in an unfortunate checkmate, when Valmont unexpectedly falls in love with his prey.
Following her Academy Award nominated performance in The Savages Linney, who specializes in warm vulnerable characters, does an admirable job of squelching her emotional luminosity to essay the cold deceitful Marquise. She is a gifted actress, who frequently returns to the stage to hone her skills. And here playing against type she is a stunning ice cold beauty without an ounce of heart.
Daniels in a Tony nominated performance is lusty as the incorrigible Valmont intent on ruining as many women as possible. His postured portrayal, although immensely entertaining, unfortunately feels centered in his crotch. While the two leads work nicely together, especially during their carnal gamesmanship, they lack the deep emotional connection that would make the evening truly chilling.
Mamie Gummer, the daughter of Meryl Streep, is making quite a name for herself. As Cecile Volanges, a convent girl who is deflowered, she turns in another outstanding performance. She has recently appeared in various works around town demonstrating her excellent craftsmanship and varied gifts.
Director Rufus Norris keeps the intricate plot lines moving rather nicely. The long first act feels a bit slow, but picks up briskly in the better second half. The staging with flowing silks and plush mirrored salons is a beautiful juxtaposition to the cruel games. Katrina Lindsay won both the Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award for her elaborately detailed costumes that capture the period’s extravagance perfectly.
First seen on Broadway in a 1987 production with Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman, that many considered definitive, the play has inspired two films, as well, with Glenn Close and Annette Bening as the monstrous Marquise. The current revival is an elegant reminder of what devilish good fun naughty characters can be.
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dans Papers
Les Liaisons Dangereuses is playing on Broadway at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street, in New York. Tickets are available by calling Roundabout ticket services at 212-719-1300, online at HYPERLINK "http://www.roundaboutheatre.org" www.roundaboutheatre.org or at the box office.