BWW Reviews: APT Presents Daring Lessons In Love with LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES
Love and sex: This dynamic pair of human needs has dominated society's conscious since Eve offered Adam the apple and together they discovered their nakedness.The two subjects frequently intermingle on stage at Spring Green's American Players Theatre for the company's final selection in their 2013 season when APT opened the decadent Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
Exploring how love and sex interact might seduce audiences to focus their attention on the indoor Touchstone Theatre stage where a sparse scenic design allows this complex story to shine. Scenes arranged around a chaise, an armless chair, several fautueils, all upholstered in silver brocade, and only a small table to accompany the seating complement a luxurious marblelized floor.
These few pieces of furniture iterally uphold the play's lascivious action. Three gilded chandeliers, hanging and dripping in beads, move up and down on stage to integrate the imaginary ceiling into the set, an elegant although simple design. The stage resonates with the essence of Louie XVI's lavish reign in France, courtesy of Scenic Designer Nathan Stuber.
Then the characters from the 1782 Pierre Choderlos de Laclos novel adapted into a 1985 play by Christopher Hampton arrive for the evening. Ten master actors dressed in Rachel Anne Healy's sumptuous costumes, trimmed in lace and ribbons, provide the pièce de résistance to APT's production. On stage, deceit and debauchery disguised as passion inhabit the main characters.
In the award winning play, the Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont plot to destroy other people's reputations using the most potent emotion of all: love. Sex can be powerful, an aphrodisiac to sensual pleasure, yet on a grander scale in the play and now 200 years later, love extracts the greatest toll on these characters and their future.
The mercurial Tracy Michelle Arnold playing Merteuil devises cruel games, lessons, for her young confidante, Cécile Volanges, the beautiful Melisa Pereyra,.The Marquise asks her debonair and devilish ex-lover Valmont to ruin Cécile's innocence for revenge. This challenge gives James DeVita's Valmont, a dark haired, experienced presence who radiates conceit, a chance to conquer these women's hearts with false charm.
While the devious Merteuil and Valmont execute these sexual escapades with deceptive passion, they flirt with their own personal attachment, perhaps actual love, a vital emotional connection. So when the pair desires to include the pure and holy Madame de Tourvel, APT's lovely Laura Rook, in their vicious lessons, lives are torn asunder. Tourvel eventually falls completely in love with Valmont after his desperate plans succeed to win her body, heart and soul.
APT constructs these various liaisons with deft sophistication and wit under Brenda DeVita's direction, the graphic scenes handled with discretion. Can deflowering a young innocent be discreet? Yes, the delicate bustiers and lace undergarments entice the audience more than any nudity, with these sexy costumes worn to hide the bare realities, to better underscore the scandalous behavior that lies underneath these characters' vanity and wealth: The aristocracy's s boredom, idleness of hands and minds, their days devoid of any meaningful purpose or service.
"Love is something you use, not fall into," Merteuil believes, where an individual's depravity overthrows any generosity of spirit. Which also refers to an imbalance between pleasure and happiness, or incurs the double standard involving sexual favors. Madame de Rosemonde, played by a regal Sarah Day, responds with, "Men only experience happiness by what they feel, women by what we give."
APT's superb acting, set design and delicious sexual exploits entangle the audience in these rich, although vacuous French lives, while Hampton's adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses plumbs the depth of the tension between love and sex, happiness, pleasure and power, the desires of men and women. How when life abruptly succumbs to the last breath, perhaps what then matters is what the contemporary Beatles quoted on their final recording, "In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."
Placed within the context of the play, all these quotes could be pondered for a long time after the actors exit the stage. A voyeuristic audience persuaded into deliberating how they view love and sex. That to say "I love you," to another person from someone's innermost being, impossible for Merteuil and Valmont, or Valmont to admit to Madame Tourvel, could be the most extravagant wealth another person has to bestow on another. A gift worth giving at the holiday season.
In the 1950's, a famous psychologist ERich Fromm wrote in his classic text "The Art of Loving" that a person's greatest fear was to die alone, unconnected to another human being, unloved. A perfect thought to consider when watching the marvelously wicked APT Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Which justifies that for kings or peasants, in matters of the heart, love instead of merely sex provides the most daring lessons one learns in life.
American Players Theatre presents Les Liaisons Dangerueses in Spring Green's Touchstone Theatre through November 24. For information or tickets, please call 608.588.2361 or visit www.americanplayers.org.