Arielle Tepper Madover, Starry Night Entertainment,
Eric & Marci Gardiner, Patty Baker
The Donmar Warehouse Production
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
By Christopher Hampton
Directed by Josie Rourke
Janet McTeer and Liev Schreiber
Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Raffi Barsoumian, Ora Jones
Elena Kampouris, Katrina Cunningham, Josh Salt, Joy Franz
David Patterson, Laura Sudduth, Rachel de Benedet
Ron Menzel, Mary Beth Piel
222 West 45th Street
Set & Costume Design: Tom Scutt
Lighting Design: Mark Henderson
Sound Design: Carolyn Downing
Composer & Music Supervisor: Michael Bruce
Casting: Caparelliotis Casting
Movement Director: Lorin Latarro
Fight Director: Richard Ryan
Hair, Wigs, & Make Up: Campbell Young Associates
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan Brown
General Manager: 101 Productions, Ltd.
Advertising: Serino Coyne
Production Supervisor: Aurora Productions
Company Manager: Thom Clay
Production Stage Manager: Jane Grey
Donmar Exec. Producer: Kate Pakenham
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 2, 2016
Christopher Hampton’s 1985 play, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, to which I eagerly looked forward on my first viewing, centers on the smoldering chemistry between Le Vicomte de Valmont and La Marquise de Merteuil, as they sadistically seduce, betray, and possess a handful of women and girls. The purpose of this predatory madness is to satiate the bloodthirsty and aging Marquise, who seeks younger and younger men to prove her timeless sexuality and younger and younger victims to prove her impenetrable power to control the Vicomte. Very unfortunately this play was miscast, with Liev Schreiber (the Vicomte) and Janet McTeer’s (the Marquise) chemistry akin to soon-to-be ex-husband and ex-wife in a lawyer’s office. If only this duo had even once exuded a fraction of the chemistry that the sizzling Playbill cover / production photo promised. The most intense and credible relationship occurred between the Vicomte and the young, married Madame de Tourvel (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen). Here, the Vicomte, and the actor as well, allowed himself to exude vulnerability, yearning, and heat. This was the couple the audience might hope to see kissing in a glowing spotlight, but Ms. Sorensen was directed to mostly hide her face and express an unpersuasive distance.
The initial purpose of the Vicomte’s seductive obsession of Mme. Tourvel was to win a bet with the Marquise, a bet that involved, what else, sex. But, the Vicomte’s other prey, the fifteen-year-old convent graduate, Cécile Volanges (a very youthful Elena Kampouris), is literally grabbed and sexually molested in her boudoir, and Mr. Schreiber laughs throughout, to audience uneasiness and thick silence broken by coughs. One would assume that Josie Rourke, the Director of this play, who is Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, where this production originated, would make the character nineteen, for obvious reasons. Ora Jones, who plays Madame de Volanges, Cécile’s mother, seemed completely oblivious to her daughter’s plight, although this play turned her plight into passion. The character with convincing passion was Cécile’s adored tutor, Le Chevalier Danceny (Raffi Barsoumian, in a breakout role), who takes center stage with the Vicomte toward the play’s finale. Taking place in salons and bedrooms in and about Paris and its surrounding countryside, additional characters arrive and depart, not only during the muffled dialogue (more on that below), but also during scenic interludes, with Michael Bruce’s original music sung and performed as eerie chamber music. These interludes also allowed the female cast, as regal help and acquaintances, to shift stage props and antique furniture.
In my orchestra row “m”, under the balcony overhang, I heard numerous audience members complaining about trapped sound, especially during Ms. McTeer’s many monologues. I silently agreed, as each time Ms. McTeer turned her head, words evaporated in air. The last play I reviewed at The Booth was Hughie, with a cavernous set and just two characters. Sound was never an issue in that production last season. But now, with Tom Scutt’s heavy, busy set, of plastic, then draped mirrors, chaise lounges, giant floral and figurative paintings, doors and chairs, curtains, props, cushions, candles, and candelabras, a sound system and directorial cues designed to project were in order. In one of the final scenes, Ms. McTeer and Mr. Schreiber devolved into a shouting match, and suddenly words landed with import. If only……
Mr. Hampton’s play, based on the novel of the same title, by Choderlos de Laclos, is one I would love to see again in a different production with new direction. Also in need of revision are the hair and wigs by Campbell Young Associates. One need only look at the photos below. The Playbill cover and promotions show Mr. Schreiber with a natural, 1780’s hairstyle, as do two photos below (probably from rehearsals). The third photo below shows the stage wig used, and, wearing it tonight, Mr. Schreiber seemed insubstantial. Moreover, his britches and shirt, also by Mr. Scutt, seemed too tight and unflattering. The ladies’ lovely dresses appeared to be silk and taffeta, with full bustles. Lorin Latarro and Richard Ryan, directors of the interlude movement and a scenic fight, handled their tasks with precision. For the record, Mr. Schreiber has been very favorably reviewed on these pages in A View from the Bridge, Talk Radio, and Glengarry Glen Ross.