This post is about a MWC theater outing to see LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, the famous Christopher Hampton play, in the London-based Donmar Warehouse’s New York production. Only in New York for a limited run, this revival stars Liev Schrieber and Janet McTeer. The MWC will be attending on Wednesday, November 2nd at 2pm. Tickets are $151. Members, pls. reserve your tickets through the “Sign-Up!” tab on the Members’ Site menu ribbon or go to the Reservations/ Payment page available through “Members Info.”
RECREATIONAL CRUELTY. Sort of a hideous concept, don’t you think? Yet it’s the basis for playwright Christopher Hampton’s multi-award-winning 1985 play (later made into an equally lauded movie) which was adapted from a late 1700’s French novel. It’s important to recall in thinking about this dark but hugely compelling work, that the word ennui is French for a high order, high degree, of boredom. It is typically associated with fashionable upper classes who, given so much so easily, find themselves world-weary. And so it is with the lead characters of LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, the imperious and glacial Marquise de Merteuil (played by Janet McTeer) and her rival and former lover, the Vicomte de Valmont (Liev Schrieber).
With no apparent obligations or vocations to occupy their time, these two gripping characters use their considerable intelligence to define and manipulate a self-absorbed playing field: the nexus of love, sex and jealousy. The original novel was meant to expose the decadence of the French pre-Revolutionary Ancien Regime, but in the hands of Christopher Hampton the truly diabolical decadence of its protagonists gets up-ended by the unexpected and unwelcome power of love.
The complicated, almost farcical, plot centers on the sexual gamesmanship of Mertuil and Valmont. She challenges him to seduce a virgin who happens to be engaged to her ex-lover. He then sets out to spoil, and possibly ruin the life of, the virtuous wife of a local official – but becomes ensnared by his own emotions. So much of what happens here is about having and using control over oneself and others and feeling how the breathtakingly cynical decorum of these two aristocrats degrades their capacity for emotional depth. Yet …. as awful as this sounds, it also puts pure emotion into relief. Their cynicism highlights its opposite: true feeling and love. Their decadence showcases purity. Their manipulation and vengeance makes one appreciate helpfulness and forgiveness. Doesn’t white always look better against black?
So for all its darkness, and perhaps because of it, this may well be a perfect play. Although most of the “action” is verbal and cerebral, it hurtles forward without a wasted second. This is no period piece. If you go, have a double espresso before you do – because you will want to be hyper aware and take in every twist and turn, every inflection and nuance.