Les Liaisons Dangereuses, a play adapted by Christopher Hampton from an eighteenth-century French novel, is an ambitious undertaking for Miners Alley. It tells the story of a couple of onetime lovers – lovers in that sophisticated, French, this-doesn't-mean-anything-emotional way – Le Vicomte de Valmont and La Marquise de Merteuil. These two have been playing vicious cat-and-mouse games and using sex to destroy the lives of others for some time. At the Marquise's bidding, the Vicomte seduces the virginal young Cecile Volanges and sets out to win the heart of the upright and virtuous – and, by the way, married, though that doesn't count for anything here — Madame de Tourvel. Arthur Schnitzler's far more lighthearted La Ronde, written in roughly the same period, illustrates the morals of the time with a series of cheerful partner swaps, but while Liaisons involves only the decadent aristocracy, Schnitzler mingles classes and vocations. Liaisons, though frequently funny, also moves to a darker ending, in which the vulnerabilities of both the Vicomte and the Marquise are exposed, and some level of punishment is meted out to at least one of them.
This is a clever play, filled with witty bits of dialogue, but it's essentially without heart, which means that it requires a highly stylized performance. And that's where I think director Len Matheo's production, despite some strengths, goes wrong. We need those powdered wigs, stockings and buckled shoes. We need actors with elegant bearing, who know how to execute those hand-kissing bows without looking awkward—and among the cast, only Lisa DeCaro as the Marquise has the requisite poise and carriage.
Matheo has chosen to bring this piece into the modern world. As we enter the theater, we see the actors chatting idly on stage. Their costumes are a mix of period and things that look like everyday clothing or bits of costume from other plays. The setting is a theater back room, with bare walls and an exit door.
There are some good performances. DeCaro manifests the requisite cold cynicism, along with tiny, hastily repressed flashes of feeling. James O'Hagan Murphy is a properly wicked Vicomte, believable when he succumbs to love, though not convincing as an eighteenth-century nobleman. He handles with skill the knife edge between rape and seduction in those sex scenes that contemporary audiences find so difficult.
Matheo's concept might work better if we saw the actors more visibly transform into their aristocratic characters from the relaxed theater professionals they play between scenes, but their supposed on-stage personae aren't very different from their off-stage ones.
There are some wicked pleasures, and a hint of significance in the way Liaisons reveals the sad consequences of empty seduction, but overall the play feels more like a curiosity than an involving evening of theater.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Miners Alley Playhouse, through October 15, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, $15-$25, 303-935-3044.
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