It’s a little different seeing Les Liaisons Dangereuses in these days of heightened awareness of the prevalence of sexual assaults on women. Our new pussy-grabber-in-cheif makes the exploits of the rapacious Vicomte de Valmont stand out even more starkly. Valmont may claim that his assaults are intentionally resistible so that woman can’t claim he forced them. Still, he does indeed grab women – who are saying no – right in the pussy. If in the past the Marquise de Merteuil’s final “war” on Valmont seemed a pass too far, it seems all too justifiable now.
As Valmont, Liev Schreiber cleverly calibrates all of this, shading his interpretation with the sense that he is more a slave of his appetites than their master. He is possibly the sexiest man ever to play Valmont, with a brooding virility that helps explain this decadent man’s appeal. Schreiber is better known for playing more macho sorts, but proves more than capable of playing – with great intelligence and sophistication at that – a dissolute, even melancholy 18th Century French aristocrat.
Former lovers, Merteuil and Valmont compete in games of seduction and revenge. And if Schreiber’s Valmont is the louche, lounging sort, then Janer McTeer’s Merteuil is the very picture of elegant yet implacable ferocity. Her consonants rustle, her vowels throb. Her hands and fingers flutter with the lethal precision of daggers. The exterior is calculating and cool, but seething lava boils underneath. It’s one hell of a performance, and if McTeer isn’t remembered with a nomination at Tony time, I’m crying foul.
Director Josie Rourke has given these star turns a gorgeous production, all candle-lit chandeliers and the effortless glamour of decay. The pace is languorous without being unbearable, a minor-key pavane of a privileged class on the brink of collapse. Highly recommended.
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To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.