Les Liaisons Dangereuses
During the late 1780s, before the French Revolution, two aristocrats are, more or less, looking to spice up their lives. Madame la Marquise de Merteuil (Elizabeth Aspenlieder) and Le Vicomte de Valmont (Josh Aaron McCabe) were once lovers, and they might yet be once again. For now, La Marquise recommends that Valmont deflower Cecile de Volanges (Lydia Barnett-Mulligan). Valmont, wishing to bed La Marquise once again, has more impassioned eyes for Madame de Tourvel (Kelly Galvin). If he sleeps with Madame de Tourvel and proves this to La Marquise, Valmont feels La Marquise should once again retreat, with him, to the bed chamber.
Valmont is debonair, clever, and most determined. La Marquise, within her corsets, is quietly erotic. Aspenlieder, as the cunning one, says volumes through her varied eye contact and the pursing of her lips. The play is one of strategy and, within Tina Packer's hands, is quite fitting for the current day. La Marquise advises Cecile, for example, "When it comes to marriage, my dear, one man is as good as the next." Call this practical or call it philosophical counsel. What is vitally important, to La Marquise, is to play her hand so that she is most potent.
Aspenlieder has deservedly received accolades the past two years for her comedic turns in such plays as Bad Dates and Rough Crossing. Perhaps fewer theatergoers are aware that she has also appeared in productions of Othello and in King Lear as Regan. She was touching as Mattie in the small but very special Shakespeare & Company rendering of Ethan Frome. Her range expands further with Marquise de Merteuil. The woman is a figurative puppeteer, one who is shrewd and calculating as she strives for personal satisfaction. Aspenlieder nails the persona early on and holds it throughout the nearly three hour performance. If anything, her grip and presence amplify.
Valmont, in comparison, is somewhat less self-protective. He gets around, so to speak, but is not immune to pain. McCabe's performance combines discipline with high energy. Those surrounding the leading actors are most impressive. Barnett-Mulligan as Galvin, actress Alexandra Lincoln as Emilie, and actor Enrico Spada as Le Chevalier Danceny should receive special recognition.
Packer is both a director and also an interpreter of plays. One can be certain that she thought carefully about Les Liaisons Dangereuses before selecting it as the company's winter piece. The novel was originally written during a period of time when women had little power and Packer, assuredly, seizes upon that aspect. Valmont beds many women; he can be, depending upon the circumstances, hotor cool. Marquise de Merteuil holds strong, symbolic reins.
Costumer Govane Lohbauer shines with her outfits for the players. All are dressed for the period, complete with layers and constrictions. The Bernstein Theater affords close proximity for the audience. Faces and chests bound forward ...
Carl Sprague's set design is simple but charming. Rear sliding panels allow for fluid transitions from the chateau to the bedroom and so forth. Specific lighting choices, as designed by Stephen Ball, enhance the proceedings. Kristin Wold adds distinctive, graceful choreography to the production.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses continues at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts through March 21st in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre. For tickets, call (413) 637-3353 or visit Shakespeare.org.
- Fred Sokol