"Les Liaisons Dangereuses" at the Shakespeare Theatre Company

What do you get when you get a cast of 10 young actors from various parts of the world and put them in a show about deceit and seduction directed by John Malkovich?

An extraordinary evening, that's what.

Jess and I were extremely fortunate to be able to attend this very limited-time event at the Shakespeare Theatre Company on Thursday evening.  The show, entirely in French with English surtitles, was originally performed in Paris at the Théâtre de l’Atelier.  Normally, this show is done with lavish sets and beautiful period costumes that can sometimes overshadow the gorgeous language and complex plot points.  This show, however, strips all that away to the bare bones of the story.  The costumes are simple, but still give the actors that period flair (I do have to give a shout-out to the two coats that the Vicomte de Valmont wears, because they are works of art [as is the wearer himself, but that's a different part of the story]).  The Marquise de Mertueil has panniers that open when she wants to be fancy, and then close when she's alone with close friends.  Instead of quills and parchment, characters use modern touchscreen tablets to write letters.  The best bit is that the modern touches don't detract from anything, and you still feel like you're in 18th-century France.

A quick recap for those who don't know the story: The Vicomte de Valmont wants to sleep with the lovely and married Madame de Tourvel, and his friend (and ex-lover) the Marquise de Merteuil wants to corrupt the innocent Cécile de Volanges, recently taken out of a convent by her mother.  They eventually do succeed, but not without consequences to themselves and everyone else.  That is an incredibly simplified summary, but I think it'll do for the time being.

I do want to talk about my favorite moment of the night.  It comes in the second act, when the Vicomte is with the Marquise.  He has just broken up with Madame de Tourvel at the behest of the Marquise.  He thinks that he'll now get to spend the night with her, as she promised earlier in the show (she says that if he can prove that he sleeps with Tourvel that they can resume their love affair for one night).  The Marquise, however, has other ideas and tells him that he is, in fact, her greatest triumph of deceit.  She knows he fell in love with Madame de Tourvel, something he's never done before.  Jealous, she tricked him into leaving the only woman he's ever truly loved.  It's a scene that can easily be overacted, but here it was subtle and just entrancing to watch.  The pair is upstage, facing each other, and the Marquise speaks so softly, not gloating, just quietly triumphant.  The Vicomte reacts with the same subtlety - it would be easy for an actor to rage and shout, but not this one.  He stays quiet, letting her explain everything and you can just see it destroy him from the inside out, but he never really lets on how badly he's hurt.  It's a beautiful piece of acting.

This show must close on December 9, so if you can make it, I really highly recommend it.

I also want to thank the Shakespeare Theatre for hosting performances like this one.  DC is the only stop they have in North America, so this was a fabulous opportunity to see international theatre without having to fly to France (though I very much wish that I could!).  Keep up the good work, STC!!

Les Liaisons Dangereuses
based on the epistolary novel by Choderlos de Laclos
directed by John Malkovich
through December 9, 2012
Shakespeare Theatre Company


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