Review: ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’ (‘Dangerous Liaisons’)’ at Audrey Herman’s Spotlighters Theatre

There are a lot of folks who are thoroughly enjoy a good period drama.  And even more who enjoy a night out watching a great play. They’re in for a delightful dose of both at Audrey Herman’s Spotlighters Theatre with Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons), directed by Erin Riley.

Based on the 1782 novel by Pierre Chodorlos de Laclos, Christopher Hampton’s adaptation has been a hit since it premiered at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1985, moved to Broadway in 1987, was made into a movie in 1988 and went on to yet another run on Broadway. How fortunate that Baltimore audiences get to see this fascinating glimpse into the intrigue of French society at Spots.

 Jeffrey L. Springtree Gangwisch and Nathan Parry. Photo by Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography.
Jeffrey L. Springtree Gangwisch and Nathan Parry. Photo by Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography.

Two people with no apparent moral compass, one a beautiful and conniving Marquise. The other a Vicomte with an appetite for sexual conquests with no regard for the consequences. With the hots for each other, but purely in a tit for tat sort of way. Toss in their various nefarious reasons for the havoc they wreck on other people’s lives and you have the tale of what it can cost to treat the rest of the world as if you’re the center of it.

Erin Riley has made some risky and brave choices with her take on this play; good thing, because they all pay off. With only a few exceptions, the pacing is well done, especially considering the length of this play. The addition of the dance sequences is especially innovative. Melissa McGinley (remember that name), and her assistants J. Purnell Hargrove and Theresa Olson weaved the dances to the story line expertly. Terrific lifts and high drama. Riley’s choice of music for the dances, a contemporary soundtrack by Hozier, was perfect.

With Justin Thilman’s lighting and Laurie Brandon’s clever set, the action plays nicely. Brandon’s use of just four set pieces, moved around the stage to suggest various rooms, is quite clever. I’ll give a pass to the costumes by Amy Rawe Weimer. What was there was well done – there just weren’t enough of them. Knowing the challenges of local theatre budgets, I totally get it, but when you see a character in the same clothes over what is obviously a period of days or weeks, it gets noticeable.

Scene changes are usually performed in the dark, but Riley’s choice to make the various members of the household staffs do the duty, with a hats off to gender-bending casting, was great fun. J. Hargrove Purnell, Bambi Galore, and Jenny Hasselbusch were much more than scene changers, adding to the overall production in a great way.

Outstanding among the supporting players in the rest of the cast are, well, everybody. Katharine Vary as La Presidente de Tourvile is excellent, with the ability to rev up her outrage like a pro. Jacqueline Chenault is touching in her portrayal of Cecile de Volanges, with a charming naivety. Rounding out the cast in fine fashion is Ruta Douglas Smith as Madame de Rosamunde.

Kay-Megan Washington. Photo by Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography
Kay-Megan Washington. Photo by Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography

Kay-Megan Washington is so skilled in her delivery as Madame de Volanges, Cecile’s mother, that I wanted to see more of her. And Jeffrey L. Springtree Gangwisch is a lanky delight as Le Chevalier de Danceny. Kerry Brady and Brian Douglas make more than the best of their roles as Emilie, the courtesan, and Azolan, valet to the Vicomte. 

Melissa McGinley, as La Marquise de Merteuil, is a fine dancer, but a much better actress. Her Marquise is as dislikeable a leading lady since Mrs. Macbeth. McGinley nails the part with a mix of haughty disdain and nearly pathological narcissism. Given the gender inequities of the time period of the play, hers is a spot-on portrait of how a woman might react under the circumstances. A truly talented performer.

Melissa McGinley and Nathan Parry. Photo by Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography.
Melissa McGinley and Nathan Parry. Photo by Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography.

Nathan Parry plays the scheming le Vicomte de Valmont. He acquits himself quite admirably in the several dance scenes and has movie star good looks. As le Vicomte, his initial delivery seemed a little forced. But once he started trusting his performance – particularly in the second act – his emotional range became much more apparent. His is a seductive take on a character that way too late realizes the errors of his ways, with unfortunate results. Parry is an actor who makes a yeoman’s effort and delivers a performance that is totally satisfying.

Fuzz Roark and Spotlighters are once again hosting a quality production that deserves to be seen. When many theatres are reluctant to produce plays that are part of the legacy of theatre, choosing instead to focus on more current pieces that speak to the present, luckily for audiences in Baltimore Spots has chosen to speak to the present by spotlighting a current piece that is fairly timeless.

Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with an intermission.

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Les Liaisons Dangereuses plays through June 19th, 2016 at Audrey Herman’s Spotlighter’s Theatre – 817 Saint Paul Street, in Baltimore MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 752-1225, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.

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