adapted by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Charlie Marie McGrath
Produced by AstonRep Theatre Company
At Raven Theatre’s West Stage
Curious timeline confuses French 18th Century novel adaptation
Why director Charlie Marie McGrath chose to put de Laclos’ 1782 epistolary novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, in 20th Century Russia in 1916 just before the Tsar is overthrown is anyone’s guess? You’d think with the Great War and all the social and political strife going on in St. Petersburg, that aristocrats Marquise de Marteuil (Sara Pavalak McGuire) and her fellow game player Vicomte de Valmont (Robert Tobin) would find more important things to occupy their time than sexual seduction and dominance? I don’t see why to set this sexy comedy of manners is staged in pre-Revolution Russia? Maybe they had access to early 20th Century fashions? Just because the Russian aristocracy spoke French and were influenced by French culture doesn’t make Russia appropriate for this story.
We see the nasty Marteuil (Sara Pavalak McGuire in a strong performance) out witting her love-hate rivalry with her former lover Valmont. The super-seducer Valmont relishes in conquering naive women both to win admiration from Merteuil and to win his bet with her. Both gamers are socially evil manipulators who live for the game. Dangereuses is a tale of former lovers bent on treachery and revenge. Merteuil and Valmont challenge each other to perform acts of sexual treachery as each confides their escapades to the other. Valmont is the charmingly cunning man whose ego and sensuality leads him to enjoy deflowering innocent young ladies. This drama is a scandalous story about deceit, decadence, and sexual warfare utilizing a dreamscape of secrets and lies.
Other than the worthy performances from Sara Pavalak McGuire and Robert Tobin, most of the players struggled to nail their parts as many of the women here either mumbled or raced through their lines making their performances seem mechanical and insincere. The play is much too long with the first act clocking in at over 90 minutes as it drones on toward a 2 hour, 30 minute timeline. But, my biggest problem with Les Liaisons Dangereuses lies in me not caring about any of the characters. Valmont and Merteuil were not nasty enough for me to hate them and the other players were so inept that I couldn’t care what happened to them. This work needs more of an edge with a generous cut of at least 3o minutes. More raw sexuality couldn’t hurt. Boredom set in as this work droned on.
At Raven Theatre’s West Stage, 6157 N. Clark, Chicago, IL, call 773-828-9129, www.astonrep.com, tickets $20, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission,through June 21, 20145