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Fortune Theatre presents ‘Liaisons’

By Charlene Baldridge | Theater Review

As readers may know, British playwright Christopher Hampton is renowned for his translations of classic literature for the stage.

A case in point is his 1985 translation of Pierre de Laclos’ 1782 epistolary novel, “Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons),” which is being produced in splendid style by New Fortune Theatre at the Lyceum Space through Jan. 28.

The most astonishing thing about New Fortune’s production, directed by Artistic Director Richard Baird and Kaitlin O’Neal, is its utter lack of mannerism: it is played without affectation in the vital modern English vernacular provided by Hampton.

Unscrupulous shenanigans abound on stage in this sordid tale. (Photos by Daren Scott)

Due to the excellence of the acting and the swift, amusing and subtle scene changes (designer, Giulio Perrone) from hotels to chateaux and back again, the near three-hour work, performed in sumptuous period costumes designed by Howard Schmitt, unfolds as one smooth, lascivious moment.

Baird portrays Le Viconte de Valmont, who derives great pleasure from deflowering virgins. He is in cahoots with his former lover, La Marquise de Merteuil (Jessica John), who is as sexually licentious as he.

His current seduction plot concerns the virtuous, beautiful and seemingly unobtainable Présidente de Tourvel (Amanda Scharr), who is staying with Valmont’s aunt, Madame de Rosemonde (Dagmar Fields), while Tourvel’s husband is out of town.

(l to r) Cécile de Volanges (Gentry Ross) has a moment with the play’s main protagonist, Le Viconte de Valmont, played by Richard Baird, who is also Fortune’s artistic director.

Meanwhile, Merteuil is bent upon the ruin of convent raised Cécile de Volanges (Gentry Roth), whose mother (Terril Miller) is Merteuil’s friend. Cécile has fallen in love with her music teacher, Le Chevalier Danceny (played brilliantly and oafishly by Connor Sullivan).

In addition to the despoiling of their intended targets, both Valmont and Merteuil wind up with unexpected seductions — never mind that human beings with complicated lives and feelings are involved. In each case the perpetrators themselves become more deeply involved than intended, lessons are learned, and lives are ruined.

Instead of feeling that each seducer deserves comeuppance, the onlooker feels sad, and thank God I’d forgotten the play’s stunning denouement. In what could be termed a postlude, the beautiful, cruel and seductive John is brilliant, adding a bit of poignancy in her “I was always afraid to get old …” speech.

Scandalous romps on stage

Was she assisted by artificial means? I think not. The actor appears to age before our eyes. Baird is magnificent, as expected, and he, too, brought breadth and empathy to his role.

Taylor Henderson portrays a courtesan, and Justin Lang, Neil McDonald and Christopher Torborg relish their roles (and so do we) as household servants, ceremoniously rearranging the chaise longue, the cocktail table and the writing desk for each scene change.

No doubt theater lovers have seen the stage productions and the several films of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” (especially that of John Malkovich), but seldom have we so thoroughly and clearly understood it.

The production is further enhanced by Missy Bradstreet as wig mistress; J. Tyler Jones as fight choreographer; Matt Lescault-Wood as sound designer, and AJ Palin as lighting designer.

— Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenecriticism.blogspot.com or reach her at charb81@gmail.com.

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