Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review: "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" on Broadway

How does Les Liaisons Dangereuses on Broadway compare to the famous movie Dangerous Liaisons (starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Michelle Pfeiffer)?

Having never read the book by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (and only seen the movie), I was not sure what to expect. I had nothing to fear. The Broadway adaption of the book was mostly accurate and dramatic.

Janet McTeer as La Marquise de Merteuil acted splendidly with her gift of bending others to her will. She shows that unique skill for conniving and persuading, using all her finest weapons: logic, flattery, and womanly charms. She is quickly able to persuade Vicomte de Valmont to do her bidding, i.e. seduce the young and inexperienced Cecile Volanges for a promise (one night of pleasure with her). Janet is quite convincing as the Marquise and plays her part as well as Glenn Close in the film.

Liev Schreiber as Le Vicomte de Valmont plays his part as the talented Lothario. With skill and ingenuity, he is able to overcome the black strain of his sordid reputation and multiple, seemingly impossible hurdles, to seduce Cecile Volange (played by Elena Kampouris). Upon success, he quickly attempts to claim his prize (the night with Marquise), but is unsuccessful. In the process, he destroys Cecil's reputation and her faith in love (as Cecile returns back to the convent). Liev is very convincing and plays his part as deftly as John Malkovich in the movie. Of course, seeing his skill for argumentation, flattery, and seduction is something to be only experienced in live theater.

Elena Kampouris plays the part of the young, virtuous, and mostly inexperienced Cecile Volange. Despite putting up a seemingly impregnable wall of resistance against Valmont's subtle, and never-ending barrage of seductive temptations, she is altogether powerless to resist them in the end. Valmont skillfully uses Cecile's own words and her virtue to seduce her. The verbal sparring between the great Vicomte de Valmont and the young, innocent Cecile serves as the main dramatic skirmish in the play.

When Valmont utters, "It's beyond my control", to Cecile, we know that he is breaking off the affair with Cecile. But Valmont has more intrigue on his mind. To win Cecile back (after shamefully discarding her) - now that would be something of a grand achievement. It is not winning love that satisfies Valmont, but the overcoming of insurmountable obstacles that truly mollifies his ego (the more difficult the conquest, the better)

Like all great dramas, Le Liaisons Dangereuses, asks more questions than it answers.
Could any of us resists Valmont's advances than Cecile? If not, how are we to judge her actions?
Are there truly people like La Marquise De Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont, who have the ability to seduce anyone at will? If so, are we all just powerless heaps of clay?


The Vicomte de Valmont is determined to seduce the virtuous, married, and therefore inaccessible Madame de Tourvel, who is staying with Valmont's aunt while her husband is away on a court case. At the same time, the Marquise de Merteuil is determined to corrupt the young Cécile de Volanges, whose mother has only recently brought her out of a convent to be married — to Merteuil's previous lover, who has rudely discarded her. Cécile falls in love with the Chevalier Danceny (her young music tutor), and Merteuil and Valmont pretend to help the secret lovers in order to gain their trust and use them later in their own schemes.

Merteuil suggests that the Vicomte seduce Cécile in order to enact her revenge on Cécile's future husband. Valmont refuses, finding the challenge too easy, and preferring to devote himself to seducing Madame de Tourvel. Merteuil promises Valmont that if he seduces Madame de Tourvel and provides her with written proof, she will spend the night with him. He expects rapid success, but does not find it as easy as his many other conquests. During the course of his pursuit, he discovers that Cécile's mother has written to Madame de Tourvel about his bad reputation. He avenges himself in seducing Cécile as Merteuil had suggested. In the meantime, Merteuil takes Danceny as a lover.

By the time Valmont has succeeded in seducing Madame de Tourvel, he seems to have fallen in love with her. Jealous, Merteuil tricks him into deserting Madame de Tourvel — and reneges on her promise of spending the night with him. In retaliation Valmont reveals that he prompted Danceny to reunite with Cécile, leaving Merteuil abandoned yet again. Merteuil declares war on Valmont and reveals to Danceny that Valmont has seduced Cécile.

Danceny and Valmont duel, and Valmont is fatally wounded. Before he dies, he gives Danceny the letters proving Merteuil's own involvement.

At this point, the plays diverges significantly from the book by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. In the play, Cecile commits suicide and nothing happens to Marquise de Merteuil. However, in the book Marquise de Merteuil flees to the countryside ( due to the letters that Valmont left with Danceny, revealing her part in this tragedy).

In the country, the Marquise de Metreuil contracts smallpox and her face is left permanently scarred. She is rendered blind in one eye, so she loses her greatest asset: her beauty. But the innocent also suffer from the protagonist's schemes: desperate with guilt and grief, Madame de Tourvel succumbs to a fever and dies, while dishonored Cécile returns to the convent.

  • La Marquise de Merteuil - Janet McTeer
  • Cecile Volanges - Elena Kampouris
  • Madame de Volanges - Ora Jones
  • Le Vicomte de Valmont - Liev Schreiber
  • Azolan - Josh Salt
  • Madame de Rosemonde - Mary Beth Peil
  • Madame de Tourvel - - Birgitte Huort Sorensen
  • Emilie - Katrina Cunningham
  • Le Chevalier Danceny - Raffi Barsoumian
  • Major-domo - David Patterson
  • Julie - Laura Sudduth
  • Victoire - Joy Franz
Les Liaisons Dangereuses Report Card

  • Liev Schreiber plays his part as La Vicomte de Valmont with power and intelligence
  • Janet McTeer acts her part as La Marquise de Merteuil quite believably 
  • Elena Kampuris does a very credible Cecile Volanges
  • Some members of the audience were unwrapping candies and loudly chewing while the drama was ongoing. It was really distracting and annoying.