Power corrupts. It may be a trite phrase but the truth of the matter is that human nature can sink to all levels of depravity given the means and opportunity. Pierre Choderlos de Laclos explores this idea in the scandalous novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which paints perverse picture of the aristocracy in pre-revolutionary France.
Based on the novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, now onstage at Actor’s Express, weaves a tale of dishonesty, revenge and cruelty. While you may not be familiar with this classic work, you might know of a popular film the novel and play inspired: Cruel Intentions. Directed by Melissa Foulger, the play will take you on a mesmerizing journey into extravagant debauchery.
Spurned by an ex-lover, La Marquise de Merteuil (Park Krausen) concocts a devious plan to humiliate him by ruining the virtue of his soon-to-be-bride Cecile (Kristin Butler). Knowing of Le Vicomte de Valmont’s (Paul Hester) pride in his prowess to seduce his conquests, she uses her own skills to manipulate Le Vicomte de Valmont into doing her bidding as he pursues his own quest to seduce the married and seemingly morally sound La Presidente de Tourvel, played by Jennifer Schottstaedt with subtle constraint
Krausen shines in the role of La Marguise de Merteuil, giving a flawless performance. A tantalizing temptress, she effortlessly makes everyone else a pawn in her deviant scheme. Likewise, Hester brings a dashing and clever Le Vicomte de Valmont to the stage. His remarkable take on the devilishly cruel and debonair playboy rivals Krausen’s efforts.
When Krausen and Hester are together in a scene, the show hits its full stride. The palpable tension they create cuts through the house like a knife, making the already noteworthy performances all the more brilliant.
While there is not much to fault with Foulger’s direction, one aspect of the production detracts from the overall polished feel of the show. She uses Shannon Robert’s set well during the scenes; however, the scene changes have a tendency to overshadow the play. Not only are they too long, but also the attempt to make them entertaining and humorous detracts from the onstage story. The antics sometimes draw larger laughs than the show itself.
Robert’s set, while elegant, only scratches the surface of the lavishness that the aristocracy of pre-revolution France indulged themselves in. On the other hand, the costumes by Erik Teague are fascinating. They are splendid in their seeming simplicity, giving an indication to the status of the characters as well as their traits.
A captivating dalliance, Les Liaisons Dangereuses runs through October 5, 2014 at Actor’s Express. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. The show’s runtime is around three hours with an intermission.
– Kenny Norton