Les Liaisons Dangereuses
By Christopher Hampton
Directed by Daniel Seay
Starring Jany Bacallao, Jessica Booth, and Stephanie Recio
UCF Conservatory Theatre, Orlando FL
THIS is the sort of show I live for – Brilliantly conceived, superbly executed, emotionally raw and even the set changes were entertaining. Maybe you’ve seen the 1988 film or read the original novel, but here’s the kernel of the story: In 1780 Vicomte de Valmont (Bacallao) and Marquise de Merteuil (Booth) are the alpha sexual predators of the French aristocracy. They deploy wild sex as a petit thermonuclear weapon and both are out to settle old scores. The Marquise asks Valmont to deflower the 15 year old daughter of her friend Mme. Volanges (Mallory Murphy), this will humiliate the man she hates who is slated to marry little Cècile (Mallory Murphy). Vicomte feels this is beneath him; his goal is another of the Marquise’s close friends, the pious Mme. Tourvel (Recio). It’s a suitable challenge, and if he can produce a tear stained letter from her, The Marquise will give him one last quickie. If it sounds brutal, it is and The Marquise is out to show the world a woman can be as brutal as a man. Look at it as she does- the 1790’s are sure to be better for women’s rights.
Start with Ms. Booth in her brocade and bustle. Her eyes drip sex, her confidence and power are surely the strongest aphrodisiac, and she can smile sweetly as she drops an arsenic-laden sugar cube in your tea. Valmont is clearly her equal even if he seems bit young to be truly evil. Together they rejoice in each other’s conquests, and if swinger clubs existed back then, they’d own the Royal Patent on them. Recio’s piety is a self delusion, she is lonely and alone and while the front of her brain knows Valmont is wrong, the back of her brain screams “Bring him on!” She differs from The Marquises only in the stumbling block of her morality – she gives in, but hates herself and writes the letter.
Supporting this triad of lust is more and more talent – Kate Ingram as the world-wise Aunt Mme. De Rosemonde, she doesn’t expect much from men and is therefore happy. The innocent Cècile handles her rape well, and is only momentarily shocked when The Marquise advises her to take more lessons from Valmont to prepare herself for her marriage. In the next scene, she peevishly demands of Valmont “Why do we have to talk? Let’s get to it!” Valmont is so horny he keeps a courtesan on payroll, that’s the delightful Èmilie (Inge Uys). She’s the biggest part of the shows naughtiness as she serves as nude writing desk and inkstand for Valmont as he write a seduction letter to Mme. V.
This was once a novel of an era that tended to ramble and the script has perhaps two dozen scene changes. Rather than letting this bog things down, Director Seay turns the movement of the couch and chairs into a comic minuet. Towards the end, the set changes were getting applause, and that’s something pretty darn rare. Scenic designer Joseph Rusnock puts the sex scenes in a giant roll out bed, as the show progressed the older pair of ladies behind me began cheering for the bed, and eventually every scene change was accompanied by a whispered “Here comes the bed!” This is an adult show, and its view of love is the polar opposite of any romantic comedy or chick flick you might name. This is sex fought as trench warfare, and as we end The Marquise and Valmont beginning to break of diplomatic relation, but then head upstairs. All that’s left is for the moral ambiguity to resolve, and we’ll leave that in the competent hands of fight director Robert Aronowitz.
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