Les Liaisons Dangereuses
From Dangerous Liaisons, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and John Malkovich, to Cruel Intentions, with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Philippe, there have been plenty of interpretations of the French novel-turned-play, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, on the big screen as well as the stage. Now, the Nevada Repertory Company presents its own version of this racy and bitingly funny drama, directed by Sue Klemp, at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Redfield Proscenium Theatre.
The complicated, intrigue-laden plot isn’t easy to summarize, but here’s an attempt: In 18th-century France, just before the revolution, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont are ex-lovers who make a game of humiliating others through sexual conquest. Merteuil wishes to destroy Cecile Volanges, a convent-raised young lady whose wealthy fiancé was once Merteuil’s lover. Merteuil wants Valmont to seduce Cecile, but Valmont considers the task insultingly easy, and he’s planning some revenge of his own. Valmont wants to seduce the famously chaste Madame de Tourvel while her husband is away, seeing it as the pinnacle of his notorious career. Merteuil doesn’t believe Valmont can do it and offers to spend the night with him if he can obtain proof of the affair.
Meanwhile, Cecile is secretly in love with the impoverished and low-status Chevalier Danceny. Merteuil and Valmont pretend to help the young lovers while manipulating them for their own revenge. Valmont’s quest is made even harder when Cecile’s mother writes to Madame de Tourvel, warning her away from Valmont. Infuriated at the setback, Valmont agrees to help Merteuil—and get revenge on Cecile’s mother—by seducing Cecile. Will Merteuil and Valmont’s wicked schemes succeed, or have they gotten in over their heads at last?
Visually, the production is quite impressive, vividly evoking the lavish and decadent final days of the French aristocracy. Lengths of white cloth tied back to look like draperies divide the stage, adding depth and creating smaller spaces that serve as drawing rooms, bedrooms and the occasional dueling ground. The costumes are beautifully designed with rich, sumptuous colors and fabrics, and they carry their own visual subtext. The Marquise de Merteuil’s costumes, for example, mirror her progress from respectable society widow to jealous and vengeful lover, as she exchanges a sober navy-blue dress for a sinister crimson-and-black brocade gown that would do any Disney villainess proud.
Jenifer Crenshaw, as the Marquise de Merteuil, is a delight to watch, whether she’s ensnaring men with her duplicitous charms or cutting a rival dead with a blast of vitriol. Ryan Palomo’s Vicomte de Valmont, languid and dissolute, is nearly a match for her, though he’s not quite as convincingly evil.
Unfortunately, the production suffers from some technical difficulties—namely, not enough volume. Much of the play’s humor derives from the sly double entendres and witty turns of phrase in the dialogue. But some of the jokes are lost because it’s simply too hard to hear the actors, even from the center of the audience.
Overall, though, Les Liaisons Dangereuses is a salacious, indulgent pleasure, full of scandalous intrigue. If you’re looking for an evening’s worth of vicarious thrills, then look no further. And should you decide that you really need to rent Cruel Intentions first—purely for the sake of refreshing your memory about the plot’s twists and turns, of course—well, we won’t judge you.