By Beki Pineda
DANGEROUS LIAISONS. Adapted by Christopher Hampton from the 1782 novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos; directed by Len Matheo. Produced by Miners Alley Playhouse (1224 Washington St., Golden) through Oct. 15, 2017. Tickets available at 303-935-3044 or www.minersalley.com.
What do Alan Rickman, John Malkovich, Ben Daniels, Liev Schreiber and James O'Hagan-Murphy have in common? Other than being six degrees from Kevin Bacon, they have all played the flawed but intriguing Vicomte de Valmont in this sexy, scandalous production. What a lineup of talent for James to follow . . . but he lives up to the challenge. Valmont is a sexual predator, a man born for decadent pleasure, a society animal more in tune with the nuances of fashion than with his own heart. He and his female counterpart (as well as rival and former lover), the Marquise de Merteuil (Lisa DeCaro), play the game of seduction as if it were a game of chess, always trying to keep one move ahead of the other. Their hapless victims are the virtuous and the married who become pawns in an ultimately deadly game of seduction.
The script presents a complicated scenario in which revenge is plotted, favors are demanded in return for others of a sexual nature, and the innocent and unwary are exploited for frivolous games. An exquisite verbal and emotional fencing match between those inside the scheme is followed by an actual well-choreographed fencing match between Valmont and his young rival for Merteuil's hand. But it's a half-hearted romance at best. By that time, he quite unexpectedly has lost his heart to the woman he has been courting as a "favor" to Merteuil. It's as much a surprise to him as to everyone else; he didn't even realize he had a heart. To watch the knowledge of his true feelings cross James's face at a crucial moment when his actions could brand him either a gentleman or a villain is a study in astonishment. The Marquise too learns an unexpected lesson while she is leading the players on a merry chase around multiple beds. Lisa turns the heat up in this portrait of icy cynicism whose "victory" is hollow and pointless. Erika Lee Johnson is the target of the contemptible plot, a married lady (in every sense of the word) whose husband is away at war. She is the soul of piety and decorum until pursued ruthlessly by Valmont.
This production adopts the device of playing it as though it were a rehearsal being done backstage in a theater. This allows for minimal scenery (a back wall of ropes for a fly system, the requisite check-in sheets, even a fire-extinguisher holder that has no extinguisher), movable furniture (a chaise, a small table and a most important bed) and a variety of costumessome complete, some not. Most of the women are in corsets, while some wear rehearsal skirts and others have more complete costumes. Some hair is dressed; some is not. During this period in history and society, how you wore your clothes and presented yourself was as important as who you knew and your place at court. This method of presentation created a casual air that seemed inappropriate.
The actors gather for rehearsal before the "acting" starts, to stretch, help each other into costume and form a little encouragement circle. However, what this exercise seems to do is establish from the very beginning that this is a group of actors we see before us. The device keeps the characters they are playing at arm's length. It was hard to accept them as the characters when we had seen them as actors preparing to be the characters. There is something to be said for keeping the backstage rituals backstage.
The production is worth seeing just for the verbal jousting between James and Lisa, two professionals who are performing at the top of their game.
WOW factor: 8