McTeer is luminous and sharp, playing her marquise coolly indeed but with an inner fire burning. "I was born to dominate your sex and avenge my own," she tells Valmont. McTeer reveals her vulnerability only late, and to devastating effect. Schreiber, for his part, isn't reptilian or overly lascivious. His Valmont is idly amused and relaxed - even drunkenly indifferent - until he pounces like a shark, a true seduction machine. Schreiber seems so relaxed that during one preview scene in which he lounges on a coach, he expertly tossed two playing cards back-to-back into an urn on the floor.
LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES Broadway Reviews
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This ghostly and sensuous revival of Christopher Hampton's hit play (based on the 1782 epistolary novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos) arrives on Broadway via the Donmar Warehouse with a mostly British cast. The ferocious Janet McTeer has come over, too, as the scheming Marquise de Merteuil, more than a match for Valmont as they trade the hearts of naive men and women like playing cards. Schreiber's impassive libertine pairs nicely with McTeer's vengeful, wicked widow. Director Josie Rourke opts for a languid pace as these two dance a minuet of wasted love and cruelty, a game in which death is the prize and the winner feels cheated.
Schreiber may never seem inevitably to the manor born. He is not a preener and, at first, that wig with Vulcan hairline hardly eases him into the elegance of Christopher Hampton's deliciously evil and erotic 1985 adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos' scandalous novel. And yet Schreiber finds another way, an increasingly irresistible way, into a character generally expected to exemplify the exquisite, unrepentant boredom of the pre-Revolution French aristocracy. This Valmont seems more drawn to the mischief of the games he plots with the Marquise that ruin innocent people for sport and revenge. Despite his height and despite the violent moments when rough seductions get cringingly close to what we perceive today as rape, his Valmont is a bit of an imp - bemused, playful, almost touching in his insolent confidence.
Its newfound elan is thanks to a sizzling cast led by the sublime Janet McTeer and a bolder take on the piece from Rourke, who previously directed it last winter at the Donmar Warehouse, her London home. Whereas McTeer previously had to do the thespian heavy lifting, this Broadway version - entirely recast except for her - features a stronger ensemble.
"I always knew I was born to dominate your sex and avenge my own," the deliciously amoral Marquise de Merteuil tells her male interlocutor in Les Liaisons Dangereuses. As personified in a blazing performance by Janet McTeer - her voice like velvet and her physical bearing a cloak of studied artifice encasing a flesh and blood woman of ferocious cunning - there's never cause to doubt her claim. Her accomplice-turned-opponent in their games of cruel conquest is a different matter. But even if Liev Schreiber is ill-suited for the part of the "conspicuously charming" Vicomte de Valmont, Josie Rourke's evocative staging provides a compelling portrait of a dissolute aristocracy on the brink of devouring itself.
Schreiber gives it his best shot, but the sensitive feelings of a charming libertine don't register in the same way that his more animal appetites do. Not that animal appetites are quite the thing for this play. Schreiber is a strong actor and a studly kind of male, and despite a constricting costume and skull-pinching wig, he exudes a modern manliness that hardly suits the effete Valmont.
I could dwell on those performances endlessly. Unfortunately, my immediate duty compels me to consider these figures of natural grandeur in the state of unnatural captivity into which they have been penned in "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," which opened on Sunday night at the Booth Theater, a production during which you pray for their deliverance.
So Rourke's production seems so much gilding of the lily, as it were, making the points with as heavy a hand as possible. It's skillfully performed, sometimes visually arresting but mostly just plain crude. This is especially so in the performances Rourke draws from her stars. McTeer, who is tall and regal, seems to pause before each over-emphasized curl of the lip, arch of the eyebrow, pointing of the finger, in a performance that unfolds as if in stop-action until her penultimate scene, when Merteuil explodes in jealous rage at Valmont. Schreiber, who exudes plenty of sexual charisma in other settings, here takes some getting used to in wig, breeches and ruling class accent. Neither the bon mot nor the catty snipe roll trippingly off his tongue, and his protestations of life-changing ardor for Tourvel are cringe-inducingly unconvincing. He's much more believable when he's got one hand over young Cécile's mouth while shoving the other up her sleeping gown.
Schreiber misses badly here, offering up a kind of Ray Donovan take on Valmont, brutish and creepy. He's less a bodice-ripping villain than the kind of guy who in modern times would be hanging around school playgrounds wearing a trench coat. Schreiber generates little in the way of chemistry with McTeer, and even less with the actresses who play his two conquests, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (HBO's "Vinyl"), as the virtuous Madame de Tourvel, and Elena Kampouris ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2"), as the virginal Cecile. (On the night I saw the show, he also mangled a few of his lines.)
‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’ Broadway Review: Liev Schreiber, Janet McTeer Bring Old Blighty to France
In Liev Schreiber's eccentric performance, this audio disconnect provides one of the few pleasures in what is otherwise a lethargic production, one that originated at London's Donmar Warehouse under the direction of Josie Rourke. Schreiber sounds as if Laurence Oliver's tenor is fighting Richard Burton's baritone, with all of this disharmony emitting from the esteemed American actor's great granite face.
Classically trained actors are naturally drawn to roles that show off their verbal fluency, but few contemporary plays give them the chance. No wonder Christopher Hampton's Les Liaisons Dangereuses, with its baroque dialogue bordering on camp, has proved so popular with upmarket stars. Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman headed the 1985 premiere; Glenn Close and John Malkovich the 1988 film; now Janet McTeer and Liev Schreiber lead the gorgeous but tiresome revival that opens tonight on Broadway. The script is full of lines like "I wonder if I'm beginning to guess what it is you're intending to propose," which despite the heavy ironing required to make them lie flat reward the effort with only a vestigial feeling that something humorous has happened. Indeed, Les Liaisons is a trap: In portraying the moral decadence of the Ancien Régime, it aligns itself with that decadence. For Hampton and his collaborators, it's a case of let them eat cake, and have it too.
This production has no doubt that Merteuil will win, though at some cost to herself, and Schreiber seems to sense this. There's a saturnine, slightly defeated air to his alcoholic Valmont. Despite Schreiber's height, swagger and masculine force, his Valmont is no match for Merteuil. He layers some of his eventual rout into the earlier scenes, all but ceding the stage to McTeer. McTeer knows what to do with it. She has set her voice somewhere between purr and growl and arranged her hands and arms into movements that are both perfect expressions of court gestures and precise parodies of them. Her Merteuil is both elegant and vicious, with an air of surface refinement barely concealing the ferocity below. There are claws beneath her manicure, fangs behind her smile. Her extraordinary performance is scorching and chilling. Ice and fire at once.
Therefore, any production of this play requires Valmont to have a palpable ticker. Simply put, you just don't believe that here. Schreiber, handsome devil though he may be, just does not appear to have enough skin in the game. There is a listlessness to this performance - which is problematic since the basic equipment required of even the lowest tier of Casanova is great enthusiasm for the task at hand. Schreiber seems to want to expend the minimum amount of energy, nothing really beyond his probing hand and fingers, which works against the operating procedure of a smooth-tongued seducer whose flattering charm is his principal weapon. More problematic yet, the crucial turn-key scene in the play where Valmont's true feelings and insecurities are revealed feels no different from any other.
Schreiber's Valmont is disengaged and stiff instead of smooth and sexy. He looks uncomfortable and out of place in a period wig and dressy attire. McTeer gives an authoritative performance as the devilish Merteuil, but she has zero chemistry with Schreiber. The real find of this production is Sørensen, a Danish actress, who makes for a vulnerable and beautiful Tourvel.