BWW Review: LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES at Center Stage Inaugurates the 2016-17 Season

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Finally, Center Stage has returned to the Pearlstone Theatre after a one year hiatus (the last show there was THE SECRET GARDEN which ended Nov. 29, 2015) during the massive renovation project undergoing on N. Calvert Street. Patrons were greeted with basically no lobby, no seating, construction walls everywhere, and no refreshment stand. So I suggest not getting to the theater too early. Maybe Center Stage should have given out yellow hard hats. I was also concerned that the exits seemed to be limited due to the construction.

But I was thrilled to be sitting back in the Pearlstone where I have been attending productions since December 1975 when Moliere's TARTUFFE premiered at the "new" Center Stage location.

2016 begins with another play based in France. When LES LIAISON'S DANGEREUSES began I could not help but think back to the wonderful song from Stephen Sondheim's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC entitled "Liaisons" where the lyric states "Liaisons...what's happened to them." Well the answer can be found in this sumptuous Center Stage production adapted from the Choderlos de Lacios novel by Christopher Hampton.

Center Stage Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah knows he took a gamble choosing LLD to open the season. He even admits that ..."It was the most hotly discussed selection during our season planning process". I wish I could have been "in the room where it happened" (stolen lyric from HAMILTON).

Coincidentally, the same play is being revived on Broadway (until January 8, 2017) with Janet McTeer and Liev Schreiber. The original Broadway production in 1987 (a Royal Shakespeare Company production) starred Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan who I just saw in a remarkable performance in PBS' "Churchill's Secrets" where she played the wife of the Prime Minister.

It is a bold, audacious decision to start a season with a play about a sexual predator who enjoys "deflowering" young women.

The premise of the play concerns two French aristocrats Le Vicomte de Valmont (Brent Harris) and the Marquise de Merteuil (Suzzane Douglas) They are former lovers who can be described as "libertines", defined as demonstrating a disregard of morality in sexual matters without moral principals or sense of respect. They pine to explore the game of who can you bed and how to prove it. The battlefield is the bedroom and they both show such glee in the competition. This may not be for everybody.

Both Harris and Douglas are exceptional in their roles but I did have trouble hearing some of Douglas' lines in the first act.

Noelle Franco is Cecile, fresh from the convent, ripe for the taking by Valmont. She nails her part.

Another victim of Valmont is La Presidente de Tourvel (GillIan Williams) who is married which makes the task for Valmont more of a challenge. Williams is perfect for this role.

But Valmont is not alone in the quest of seduction. Merteuil"s bedding of Danceny (Paul Deo, Jr.) results in a fierce dual with Valmont (credit Fight Director Rick Sordelet with Sordelet INK for the great match).

So there it is...a battle of sex, power, and revenge that is well-crafted by Director Hana S. Sharif, Center Stage Associate Artistic Director.

She is helped with elegant costumes by Fabio Toblini, clever lighting by Matthew Richards, and interesting music by Nathan A. Roberts and Charles Coes. I enjoyed the work of Scenic Designer Michael Carnahan except for leaving visible at the rear of the stage, the back wall of the theater with its exposed 20th century pipes. Why not just cover the back wall with a velvet curtain?

I did notice that all of the 13 actors were making their Center Stage debut. Was this a coincidence? It is not that the Casting Director, Pat McCorkle has not been at Center Stage before. This is her 9th production.

Once again the Center Stage program brings a wealth of information thanks to Production Dramaturg Gavin Witt. I just loved his listing of the Five Libertine Commandments: 1. Only flirt with those you intend to refuse, 2. A poor choice is less dangerous than an obvious choice, 3. Never write letters, 4. Always be sure they think they're the only one, and 5. Win or die.

Finally, welcome back Michael Ross who is returning as Managing Director of Center Stage. For seven seasons, Michael has been Managing Director at the Westport County Playhouse. He served Center Stage in this position previously from 2002 to 2008. It is a big gain for Center Stage and for Baltimore.

Hopefully the renovations will be finished in time for the next Center Stage production, THE WHITE SNAKE which runs Feb. 24 to March 26, 2017 in the renovated Head Theater.

Photo Credit: Richard Anderson

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From This Author Charles Shubow