Les Liaisons Dangereuses

June 4, 2018

in Plays

Play (1985)
by Christopher Hampton
based on the novel (1782) by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

Directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner

The Nora Theatre Company
Central Square Theater
Central Square, Cambridge, MA
May 31 – July 1, 2018

With Greg Maraio (La Marquise de Merteuil), Dan Whelton (Le Vicomte de Valmont), Eddie Shields (La Presidente de Tourvel), James Wechsler (Cécile Volanges), Jaime Carrillo (Mme de Volanges), Maurice Emmanuel Parent (Azolan), Dave Rich (Mme de Rosemonde), Felton Sparks (Major-domo), Stewart Evan Smith (Le Chevalier Danceny), John Tracey (Emilie)

Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837), 'Mme de Tourvel s’abandonne (Madame de Tourvel Lets Herself Go)' (1796)

Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837)
“Mme de Tourvel s’abandonne”
“(Madame de Tourvel Lets Herself Go)” (1796)

Featuring an all-male cast, a wonderfully acted and directed production of the play set in eighteenth century France about romantic deception, manipulation, and intrigue.

The Marquise de Merteuil (Greg Maraio) and her former lover, Le Vicomte de Valmont (Dan Whelton), engage in a set of romantic deceits and manipulations. Merteuil gets the original idea to do so and she lures Valmont into the ploy with a form of companionable sadism arising out of their former erotic connection. Several intrigues ensue: Merteuil encourages Valmont to seduce Cécile (James Wechsler), who is fresh out of a convent and engaged to the Comte de Gercourt, because she is pissed at Gercourt. Meanwhile, Merteuil encourages a relationship between Cécile and Danceny (Stewart Evan Smith). When Valmont gets wind of some badmouthing that Cécile’s mother, Mme de Volanges (Jaime Carrillo), does about him, he resolves to seduce Cécile. Valmont meanwhile is intrigued by the married and religious La Presidente de Tourvel (Eddie Shields). He and Merteuil enter into a strange bet: if he can prove that he has seduced Tourvel, then Merteuil will agree to sleep with him as well. In short, it’s an evil mess, governed malevolently and efficiently by the two prime conspirators.

This wonderfully acted production features an all-male cast, which turns out to be a very interesting, weird and fulfilling way to experience the narrative. The cast is chock full of good actors and the leads are all excellent. Wearing just a few indications of femaleness – a necklace or a slightly embellished shirt – the actors who play women are identified easily and embody their roles very convincingly.

Greg Maraio as Merteuil, Dan Whelton as Valmont in 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses'

Greg Maraio as Merteuil
Dan Whelton as Valmont
in “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”
Photo: A. R. Sinclair Photography
Courtesy of Central Square Theater

As the mastermind of the evil manipulations, La Marquise de Merteuil, Greg Maraio is out of this world. He exemplifies perfect manipulativeness while still maintaining magnetic charm. His evil counterpart, Valmont, played wonderfully by Dan Whelton, joins Maraio’s Merteuil to make quite the dastardly pair. Insinuating, calculating, deceiving with abandon, they cultivate a completely irreverent chemistry, strangely fueling their own perverse attraction for one another with their intended destruction of the lives and affairs of others.

Dan Whelton as Valmont, Eddie Shields as Tourvel in

Dan Whelton as Valmont
Eddie Shields as Tourvel
in “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”
Photo: A. R. Sinclair Photography
Courtesy of Central Square Theater

As the sincere and vulnerable La Presidente de Tourvel, Eddie Shields is extremely effective, conveying a continually changing concoction of sincerity, devotion, bottled passion, and disintegrating self-control with masterful turns.

As the wispy ex-notiviate Cécile, James Wechsler is convincingly both frail and sex-crazed. It’s amazing to watch his initially oddly constrained body undergo release under the spell of Valmont’s seduction, gradually turning itself into that of an animal in heat.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, from the 1796 edition of 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses' by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

Jean-Honoré Fragonard
from the 1796 edition of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

Supporting cast members Jaime Carrillo, Maurice Emmanuel Parent (Azolan), Dave Rich (Mme de Rosemonde), Felton Sparks (Major-domo), Stewart Evan Smith (Le Chevalier Danceny) and John Tracey (Emilie) all contribute most effectively. Clearly director Lee Mikeska Gardner has done a wonderful job rousing and shaping the talents of her cast members; such universal demonstration of capacity does not happen without that kind of expert guidance.

Obviously at the current time, the setting of an all-male figuration of a story of sexual manipulation and intrigue is all too relevant. The benefit of having this all-male production is that one sees the problems portrayed through a different set of eyes. Though the men playing women do it most competently, they are still clearly men; seeing how such an entire setting is governed by the manipulations of men, even simulating women, is an interesting take on the present, in which so many stories about sexual manipulation, mostly by men, prevail.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 'Valmont dictant une lettre à Cécile pour Danceny (Valmont Dictates a Letter To Cécile for Danceny' (1796)

Jean-Honoré Fragonard
“Valmont dictant une lettre à Cécile pour Danceny
(Valmont Dictates a Letter To Cécile for Danceny” (1796)

Alternatively, it’s also interesting to think that making the narrative mono-sexual de-emphasizes the gender differences and reinstates the significance of the moral compromise on its own terms. Perhaps this approach yields the biggest point made by the play and underscored by this production – that sexualized manipulation, in itself, is dominantly about power rather than sexuality. In light of the recent waterfall of revelations about sexual manipulations, this univocal framing provides an inventively enhanced perspective.

Overall: a terrifically acted production about charmingly nasty people, done so well that one revels in the dramatic account of their manipulations rather than sinks under the weight of their tragic implications.

– BADMan

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Madeline June 9, 2018 at 8:59 pm

After this review I’ll run to see it. Another beautifully written review. Thanks Bad Man!

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