By Manning Harris
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.