December 13–20, 2001
A chronicle of a night in the theater, captured by your faithful soiristes, Mme. Toby Zinman (La Chienne de Broad Street) and M. David Anthony Fox (Le Vicomte de Renard).
by Toby Zinman and David Anthony Fox
Les Liaisons Dangerouses
Through Dec. 23, Wilma Theater, Broad and Spruce sts., 215-546-7824
Dear Monsieur le Vicomte de Renard,
It was too, too divine of you to suggest we review this show together — do you remember, mon cher, the first time we, ah, shall we say, experimented with this? That tender, ever-so-tentative beginning? A delicious memory, no? And to suggest that we try the epistolary style — a thing more to be found in the novel than in the, well, what to call it? — "improvements" made by Christopher Hampton’s dramatic adaptation? But what a dreary business we have flung ourselves into, n’est-ce pas?
La Chienne de Broad Street
My Dear Madame LCDBS,
Ah, how too true. The best-laid plans and all that. It’s difficult for me to imagine that what Hampton hath wrought — and what the Wilma hath re-wrought from Hampton’s wringing — would in the real world occasion much more than a quick comment while en route to the powder room. As the subject of a series of letters?… And yet, we must persevere.
Avec Beaucoup d’amitié,
Les Liaisons Dangerouses thinks itself oh so decadent, so filled with naughty escapades, sexual seductions, wicked people who manipulate and lie and deceive and behave so so badly — but finally, it is merely a melodrama, no? Just a bonbon, an ooh la la, a valentine to the power of love? Valmont (Richard Thompson) and La Marquise (Lise Bruneau) scheme together and torment each other, and finally each is defeated — both the wicked and the innocent suffer, and so we learn — what? Well, nothing, other than that it must have been dreadfully tedious to live in the 18th century, talking that talk: Which is your favorite word, "betrayal" or "cruelty"? "Love is something you use, not something you fall into."
And how Hampton’s script drops every one of these flaccid aphorisms as if it were the most delectable of bons mots! Would you say this is middle-brow entertainment masquerading as sumptuous intellect? The play doesn’t even have freshness on its side anymore. Tout le monde has seen the two movies: Milos Forman’s Dangerous Liaisons and Valmont. They at least had visual opulence going for them.
Ah, yes — those gorgeous uncomfortable clothes (designed here by Janus Stefanowicz), lounging on those gorgeous uncomfortable chaises amid miles of draperies (set design by Dawn Robyn Petrlik).
I wish I could share your enthusiasm for the mise en scène, cherie. I found the costumes to be drab, and the scenery downright ugly. I am reminded of nothing so much as a fabric warehouse. This is less Versailles and more Al Greenwood, The Bedspread King. And (God forbid), as the centerpiece: Fragonard’s The Swing, perhaps the most overexposed painting of the 18th century. (Who knew it was in the private collection of La Marquis de Merteuil?) All of which, of course, brings up the obvious question:What is the interest in doing Liaisons, that pasty pastiche?
It is, of course, even more for the ridicule, that this production, directed by Jiri Zizka, should be so utterly lacking in tension, free from any hint of the voluptuous. There is, simply, a shocking lack of nastiness. What kind of decadence is so dull? The show lacks the courage of its subject and, in a stupefying three hours, never once rises out of the commonplace. Every speech has the same rhythm, most of the actors murmur so they are audible only with effort, the scene changes are glacial in their slowness and the score liturgical in its pomposity.
Précisément ! One had hoped from M. Zizka, whose previous excursions into political theater were often intriguing and always muscular, that he’d investigate a grimmer, edgier 18th century — something beyond the glittery surface. Well, he’s abandoned the surface charm, all right — but I see even less emotional content lurking beneath. Apart from a cheaply gratuitous visual coup de théâtre at the close of the play, this Liaisons seems notable mostly for a lack of ideas. It’s no wonder that the actors seem lost. Bruneau’s elegant good looks are not matched by any comparable theatrical panache. And Richard Thompson’s Valmont is like road-company Rupert Everett — until he lapses into road-company Soupy Sales. Above all, there is no sense of game playing, of enjoyment and high-stakes. The whole thing is about as "dangereux" as le Capitaine Kangaroo.
No charm, no grace, no irresistibility. So what’s left? Rien. Quel Dommage.
Till Next time,
But, let us hope, chere Madame, not a next time quite like this one.