Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Review by Robbie Huebner – Showbill.ca Writer
November 16, 2016
There is an obvious appeal to watching bad people behave badly, but it’s hard to feel much joy during Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
Liasisons is Christopher Hampton’s 1985 stage adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ epistolary novel. The cruel mind games the Vicomte de Valmont (Aidan Correia) and the Marquise de Merteuil (Adriana Marchand) engage in have only a surface-level intrigue. Two loathsome aristocrats self-destruct onstage, taking a handful of other bystanders with them. There’s no team to root for and no sense of stakes.
The Vicomte is unsympathetic, but more importantly is an unempathetic character. Rather than lean into his vile nature there is an attempt to redeem his character, both in script and performance. It’s a muddled choice that proves to be ineffective.
The Marquise de Merteuil fares better as a character and in performance. Adriana Marchand shines as the Marquise, equipped with a wistful elegance and the strength required of the role. The Marquise is the closest Les Liaisons Dangereuses comes to an empathetic character, but it’s still difficult to understand her motives or revel in her viciousness.
The script – at times – reads like a Greatest Hits of Laclos’ novel. Often the audience is left to play catch-up after a scene change, with characters defaulting to expository dialogue to help smooth out the transitions. These arduous moments drag the pace in an already overlong play. This could also be a symptom of adapting an epistolary work to the stage.
The most egregious gap happens right before the climax. The action escalates without warning and occurs between two characters who, though at odds, are not at the centre of the conflict. And while the choreography of the final moments is superb, the scene itself is hollow, a confrontation by proxy. A shame considering the power and momentum the penultimate scene depicts.
The design of Les Liaisons Dangereuses is nothing short of excellent. The beautiful costuming (by Graham McMonagle) complements the characters, each tinged with a unique colour. The set (by Barbara Clerihue) is minimal, functional and appropriate. This holds true for sound design (by Aidan Dunsmuir) as well. The chamber music helps ease some of the longer transitions throughout the play. The pastel aesthetic of set, lighting (Eryn Griffith) and costume work perfectly to reinforce the opulence and the ethical ambivalence of the Marquise and the Vicomte. It’s clear this was a unified and well-thought out effort by the design team to capture both time and mood simply and effectively.
The Bottom Line
Despite impeccable design elements and a standout performance by Marchand, Les Liaisons Dangereuses can’t sustain its ostensibly seductive script.