Les Liaisons Dangereuses
By Frank Scheck
NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Returning to Broadway for its first revival since its 1987 premiere, “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” proves itself as relevant as ever in its depiction of malicious sexual game-playing.
Christopher Hampton’s masterful adaptation of the classic 1782 French epistolary novel receives an excellent treatment in the hands of director Rufus Norris and a cast headlined by Laura Linney and, making his New York stage debut, British actor Ben Daniels.
Although this version doesn’t quite compare to the brilliant original Royal Shakespeare Company production headlined by Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan, it nonetheless effectively conveys the necessary dangerous air of sensual menace surrounding the machinations of its lead characters, the scheming Marquise de Merteuil (Linney) and the Don Juan-like seducer, Le Vicomte de Valmont (Daniels).
In this play, which is best known for its 1988 film adaptation “Dangerous Liaisons,” sex is not so much about passion as it is about power and manipulation. The idea is most chillingly conveyed in a scene late in the play when Valmont, who has made a Faustian bargain with the Marquise to seduce and then abandon the righteous and trusting Mme. de Tourvel (Jessica Collins), finishes off his prey while repeatedly uttering the phrase, “It’s beyond my control.”
The fresh-faced, sweet-voiced Linney wouldn’t seem an ideal choice for the scheming Merteuil, and indeed her performance has a forced air at times. But it gradually gains in intensity, and by the time the play reaches its chilling conclusion she is thoroughly convincing.
Even better is Daniels, effortlessly suave and charismatic as Valmont. His commanding physical presence and velvety vocal tones make more than credible the character’s abilities of seduction, and he’s heartbreaking in the final moments when Valmont realizes that he himself is the ultimate victim of his malevolent scheme.
Among the supporting players, Collins doesn’t quite make the necessary impression as the trusting Tourvel; Mamie Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep, is highly amusing as the innocent young girl upon whom Valmont first sets his sights; and such veterans as Kristine Nielsen and Sian Phillips score in their small but pivotal roles.
Performed on a set designed by Scott Pask that cleverly employs huge billowing drapes to mask the many acts of sexual coupling taking place onstage, the production well deserves an extension beyond its planned July closing date.