Theatre Review: ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’ at Actor’s Express

Pat Krausen and Paul Hester (Photo by BreeAnn Clowdus)
Park Krausen and Paul Hester in ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’ (Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus)

By Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

Actor’s Express is inaugurating its 27th Season with a lush, bold and daring production of Christopher Hampton’s “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” running through Oct. 5.

You may perhaps know the piece better from the 1988 film adaptation “Dangerous Liaisons,” which featured Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Based on a novel published in 1782 by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, the play was first staged by London’s Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985; it enjoyed a run on Broadway in 1987 and a revival in 2008.

Toward the end of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Martha says, “No more games, please. It’s games I don’t want. No more games.” But games are what “Les Liaisons” is all about: games of sexual conquest, humiliation, manipulation, and degradation.   Games played with elegance and eloquence by the crème de la crème of the French aristocracy; a few years later, by the way, the French Revolution. Connect the dots, if you wish.

No one is better at these games than La Marquise de Merteuil (Park Krausen). She is beautiful, formidable, brilliant, treacherous; and, as played by Ms. Krausen, mesmerizing. It’s always lovely to see a talented performer find a role that allows her to come into her own; and here the actress’ extensive Shakespearean background as well as her perfect French make her an ideal Merteuil (although no French is actually spoken in the play).

Add to that a speaking voice that combines fire and music, and you’ll understand that Park Krausen all by herself is a complete reason to see this play.

But she’s not alone. Merteuil’s foil, antagonist/partner, sometimes lover and co-conspirator is Le Vicomte de Valmont, well played by Paul Hester. You could call both of them sociopaths; when one admits to the other that “betrayal and cruelty are my favorite words,” you begin to realize that other people in their lives are often pawns to be used, items on a menu, as it were.

La Marquise (Krausen) decides to besmirch the virtuous Cecile (Kristin Butler) to spite a former lover; Valmont takes a notion to seduce the virtuous La Presidente de Tourvel (Jennifer Schottstaedt). Cecile has fallen in love with Danceny (an excellent Barrett Doyle), her music tutor. So many chances to cajole, to spy, to manipulate, to seduce—that La Marquise and Valmont have their hands full.

If you think these people should mind their own business, you’re missing the point: All this malevolent chicanery is their business—executed with smiles, charm, wit, and deceit on a cosmic level.

The cast (besides the above) is skilled and versatile: Edward McCreary (fresh from Serenbe Playhouse’s triumphant “Oklahoma!”), Diane Dicker, Tiffany Mitchenor (a fine performance), Katherine Littrell, Dylan Parker Singletary, and Brian Kane.

The costumes are dazzling (Erik Teague); the scenic designer is Shannon Robert. Melissa Foulger furthers her reputation as one of Atlanta’s finest directors.

Some viewers will find the three hour playing time (one intermission) a bit lengthy; I think a few judicious cuts here and there would have been wise; digital audiences these days are less and less willing to sit still that long—for anything.

But then there’s Park Krausen. It is her night. It is her show. See “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”; and leave the kids at home.

For tickets and information, visit actorsexpress.com.

4 Comments
  1. I went to the show tonight, and came home to read this review. After reading it, I’m wondering if the cast just had an off night tonight. The acting was flat and not engaging. Valmont and the Marquies’s interaction was too light/humorous, and Krausen’s acting was too much– way too over the top and without the subtlety that would be appropriate for a woman of her intelligence in that period. Schottstaedt’s La Presidente de Tourvell was hard to take seriously, which impeded me as an audience member from having any empathy for her, even while she endured the cruelty of Valmont’s behavior. It’s hard for me, as a non-industry audience member, to know if this was an off night, bad casting, or bad directing. Oh, and the show is long. VERY long.

  2. Well, there are such things as off nights, I suppose, but I disagree with virtually everything you said. But our reaction to a work of art is always individual and subjective. Thanks for reading ATL INtown and also for writing. Btw, I warned you about the three hour playing time…:)

  3. Sept 13 must indeed have been an off-night. Today’s matinee performance was excellent: witty, well-timed, nuanced. Valmont and the Marquiese are complex characters, not mere sociopaths, with much at stake between them as they joust wicked wit and betrayal. Three hours is not too long for a story such as this to play out. I would highly recommend this production.

  4. Apparently Sept 13 wasn’t the only off night. October 2nd seemed similar. I found this production highly problematic.

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