Dangerous Liaisons tells a timeless story that centers around a powerful woman (the Marquise de Merteuil) and an almost equally cunning man (the Vicomte de Valmont) whose comparably bottomless sex drives and sadistic tendencies wrap them in a sticky, sexy web of deception. Among the Vicomte’s conquests are Cecile de Volanges, young, wide-eyed, and fresh from a convent, and Madame de Tourvel, who drips with pious self-deprivation. No one is spared as the deception infects and destorys an entire social group.
Liaisons Shines Spotlight on Darkest Corners of Human Nature
HE SAID: The piece is a brilliant script and captivating exploration at the powers of love and lust, the motivations for both, how easily we can be manipulated when we are feeling either, and the fine line between them. If your only relation to this piece is the movie adaptation starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich, or even the more contemporary adaptation Cruel Intentions, the play definitely has a fire throughout that, for me, is only truly present in a live version. For this being, Spark theater’s first show out of the gate, they certainly were thinking big – in terms of storytelling if not in terms of theatre space.
SHE SAID: Although I’ve seen scenes from this classic piece from time to time, I’d never seen the play all the way through before heading to Spark’s opening night. The script is absolutely delightfully classy and witty while dealing with the grittiest of human nature – sex, deception and manipulation. All of the artists involved in Spark clearly have crisp minds that they applied to this witty piece — they chose well and prepared thoughtfully for this as their company opening.
Spark Creates Unique Environment in New Space
HE SAID: It is an act of bravery to mount a full production in a tiny, upstairs, one-room studio. While some theatre artists might think that’s a bit nuts, and others might avoid it entirely, the folks running the show at Spark were looking for exactly that type of environment to help create a more intimate connection between the audience and the story. They wanted people to feel as if they are spying on secret moments and conversations, and for the most part they greatly succeeded. The piece was very intimate and in many of the more devious plotting scenes I felt as if I was listening to something I shouldn’t be. My only thought was that they could have more fully embraced the small space. The audience members were all sitting in matching black chairs, configured for a thrust stage, that clearly defined an audience/stage relationship and somewhat undercut the evesdropping sense they were going for. While I realize it might have been financially impossible, I think setting varying chairs and small couches that suited the style of the piece creating stage in the round would have aided the proverbial fly on the wall feel.
SHE SAID: When I first walked into the space, I was a bit skeptical that they could pull off a production that felt full and theatrical in such a small setting. But I was pleasantly surprised when the quality of the story and the acting absolutely pulled me in. If I hadn’t made a mental note that there were no lighting instruments to light the stage area, I might not have noticed during the production. I loved the fact that my program was in an envelope sealed with wax (although I was puzzled that the envelopes onstage were not so elegantly sealed). I will say that for me, the costumes were a mixed bag. Some of them were gorgeous, flattering, and suggested the time period of the piece, but others were paired with extremely modern accessories or shoes, which diminished the authenticity of the other pieces overall.
Acting Engages From Close Range
HE SAID: An impressive direction was how the stagehands, dressed as chambermaids and butlers, quietly and quickly moved sets on and off while the action kept moving forward. It was like a beautifully choreographed dance. What really made the piece work for me were the incredible performances. Haley Johnson, as Marquis de Merteuil, was so controlled and calculating. It was a performance worthy of Lady Macbeth. Nils Swanson as Vicomte Valmont was wonderfully silky smooth and sly upfront, but later brought nice dimension to his character.
SHE SAID: Johnson was really the star of the night as the orchestrator of the heartless hijinks. She was delectably icy, and handled the language precisely and beautifully. Swanson was charming and funny, and although he stumbled over a few lines (opening night jitters, perhaps?) it was easy to believe that he has been able to talk his way under any skirt he chose. Overall, is a testament to the quality of the acting, which achieved just the right balance of truth and performance, that I was hardly distracted from the non-traditional setting. Kelly Reeves, as Madame de Tourvel, gave a performance with several moments of intense emotional turmoil. Though her emotional investment in the character was laudable, I found those moments to be a bit startling in comparison with the rest of the piece, and in the context of the intimate space, at those times I felt more uncomfortable than engaged.
If This Is the Spark, We Can’t Wait for the Fire
THEY SAID: Spark Theater Company is just brimming with the enthusiasm and heart that should be center stage when opening a new theatre company. Michael Emmitt should be congratulated for this brave move. Moreover, they have the talent and the thoughtful artistry to execute a creative and engaging piece in Dangerous Liaisons. An intimate evening spent with these characters will not be soon forgotten, and we look forward to what else Spark has to offer this season!
For a full plot synopsis and history of Dangerous Liaisons, see the wikipedia article. Dangerous Liaisons presented by Spark Theater plays through May 22 at Spark’s brand new space on Broadway at Alameda. Click the banner below for tickets and more information.