The Broadway presentation of the Donmar Warehouse’s revival of LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES gets a little slack in its Atlantic crossing. La Marquise de Merteuil remains as wicked in New York as London in the hands of the splendid Janet McTeer but Liev Schreiber’s Valmont isn’t quite evil enough compared to Dominic West’s in the West End (or the original Valmont, devil incarnate, the incomparable Alan Rickman) to get the full force of Christopher Hampton’s award winning drama. Schreiber’s perfectly skilled in the part, bringing to it, appropriately, his own interpretation, but he plays Valmont laconically, even comically at times. It muddies the character.
For Hampton’s adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos' contemplation of man’s degradation of man set among the sated, self-obsessed aristocracy of pre-Revolutionary France to be fully realized, both Merteuil and Valmont need an undiluted sinisterism. Schreiber’s Valmont reveals - much like his television character Ray Donovan - that he’s basically a good guy. Sure, he commits bad deeds, but, at his core, he’s honorable. So when, as part of Valmont’s despicable deal with Merteuil to cruelly seduce the virtuous and married Madame de Tourvel, he instead falls genuinely in love, which leads to his earthly demise, the irony can’t hold the tragedy.
The young performers in the cast are uniformly excellent and veteran Mary Beth Piel as Madame de Rosemonde a jewel. The direction by Josie Rourke, artistic director of the Donmar, is assured as always. Tom Scutt’s set design - an aging 17thC salon of crumbling cornices, ripped tapestries, and fading canvasses - suggests moral rot. The period lighting by candelabra (augmented by stage lighting, of course) is technical tour de force for designer Mark Henderson.
Before the play begins the open set is starkly, harshly lit by suspended florescent panels (read modernity). When they slowly fly up, and the candelabras descend to begin the drama, the agelessness of the story couldn’t be telegraphed more obviously. The election was painful reminder enough that cynical times endure beyond the age of aristocracy.
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