Regional Reviews: San Francisco
United States Premiere of Dangerous is a Gay Romp of a Classic French Novel
Also see Richard's review of Nicholas Nickleby
The New Conservatory Theatre Center opens its 25th anniversary season with yet another version of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' scandalous 18th century novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. New Mexico playwright Tom Smith has written a gay version that closely follows the French novel's story and is updated to a current American city which I suspect is San Francisco. Director Clay David has assembled a great cast of good looking actors to portray the seven characters who weave in and out of the convoluted plot. He also helms a very tight and fast production that seems like a film, with smooth and quick blackouts.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses became one of the great classic theatre pieces of the late 20th century when the Royal Shakespeare Company did a superb production of the classic at the Ambassador Theatre in London in 1985. The play transferred to New York with most of the original cast intact and was an instant success. There have been numerous interpretations of the novel, including four films (two made by the French and two backed with American and British money), a ballet and a French mini-series. ACT presented a new stylish version recently. There just had to be a gay version somewhere down the road and the New Conservatory Theatre Center presents the United States premiere to open their new season
Tom Smith first presented the play at a reading at the Crooked Mirror Theatre in Seattle in 2002. Unfortunately, American producers passed on the reading, saying that it was not campy enough for gay audiences and too gay for straight audience. The location was changed to London and Brighton and it played at several locations in the U.K. to positive reviews. The playwright changed about 20 percent of the literary dialogue and made the word play more in tune to the American ear. As a result, the play is now "American friendly," with most of the word play missing. Some of the scenes are overly melodramatic, causing audiences to laugh in the wrong places. On the other side of the coin, there are some very well-written scenes, especially in the banter of Marcus (Javier Galito-Cava) and Rosemonde (Richard Ryan); one could wish there were more scenes between these two extraordinary actors. The speeches are bright, intelligent and sophisticated.
The raunchy story is about Marcus' boyfriend, who has been caught cheating with Jason (Joseph Rende), a young naive gym trainer. In anger, Marcus prompts his friend and confidante Alexander (Donald G. Emmerich) to sleep with Jason, thus humiliating his boyfriend and claiming revenge. Alexander agrees to help Marcus, noting that he himself is trying to win the affections of Trevor, a soon to be ordained priest. Alexander finds himself trapped in a web of lies and deceit as he and Marcus battle for social domination.
Dangerous could stand some changes as it lacks enough subtlety and plausibility to be taken seriously. Some of the conversations between the characters are flat in intonation. In the center of the stage, the French-looking bed with a crown of lace seems to be the main object of the drama. Just who is going to be in that bed when the next scene opens? Most of the philosophical discussions of love, religion and the enriching narrative have been thrown out and the drama has become almost farcical in spots.
Dangerous' cast is handsome, and much of the acting is effective. Javier Galito-Cava (fourth collaboration with NCTC) plays Marcus as a malevolent John Malkovich with a voice like a Latino Clifton Webb. He gives an excellent performance as a person who could eat you alive with a knife and fork, then wipe his lips on a lace napkin. His only pleasure in life is victory and conquest, and he has no capacity to love. His verbal sparring with veteran actor Richard Ryan (Mambo Italiano, Southern Baptist Sissies) works very well. Once again, Ryan is a great asset to the production, playing a rich elderly man who is faced with a terminal cancer. He gives a first rate performance.
Donald G. Emmerich (actor, director and producer in SF, LA and NYC) seems miscast as the devilish Alexander who states very confidentially that he can get anyone into bed by concocting elaborate schemes. He is like an evil queen in a fairy story. However, he looks more ethereal than sexual predator.
David Kirkpatrick (Southern Baptist Sissies, Last Sunday in June) returns to the NCTC as Landon, a boy toy for Alexander. Kirkpatrick gets to show his acting chops in several scenes, especially in his first scene playing a "fake" homeless person getting very angry at Alexander for giving him a $1000 bill. His performance is explosive in this scene and gives the audience a good scare. He also shows off his pecs to good advantage. Nate Levine (What Wrong with Angry?) plays naive church music director Daniel who is in love with 22-year-old virgin farm boy Jason, played by Joseph Rende, who recently graduated with a B.A. in acting from Sonoma State University. Their awaking of first love is charming.
Mike Fallon (an East Bay actor making his debut at NCTC) does a bang-up performance as the seminary student. His change from being a celibate person dedicating his life to God to a fervent lover of Alexander is excellent. He goes a little overboard when Alexander tells him he no longer loves him after a night of wild sex. As the older person says in a droll manner, "I take young people to bed as a charity."
Bruce Walters has made a tightly constructed, busy set with the luxurious bed the center of attention. There is overstuffed furniture in every nook and cranny. Costumes are modern, with Javier Galito-Cava becoming a fashion plate as he disappears off stage and returns with a different striking dress apparel. He has the look of a smarmy fellow.
Dangerous will play through September 11 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness, just off Market, San Francisco. For tickets please call the NCTC box office at 415-861-8972 or on line at www.nctcsf.org.