Syracuse Stage has opened their season with an elegant and entertaining production of Christopher Hampton's LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, based on the 1782 Laclos novel. Set in the world of the jaded aristocracy of pre-revolutionary France, it centers on the malevolent sexual machinations of the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont who believe, as the play says, "Love is something you use, not something you fall into." The play begins as a witty comedy, but the tone begins to shift as their games turn deadly.
The physical production is stunning. Steve Ten Eyck's set of paneled walls with concealed doors and chandeliers provides a wonderful canvas for his clever lighting - both on stage and off. The few pieces of furniture require only minimal movement to accommodate the various scene changes, and keep the attention centered on the characters. He also makes good use of the trap, and the transition to the fencing scene is beautifully done. Speaking of that, Anthony Salatino has done a great job of staging the duel.
Tracy Dorman's costumes are beautiful and lush. They have a period look, especially the lovely fabrics, but also have subtle contemporary touches. The wig designer, uncredited in the program, has done a terrific job.
Jonathan Herter's choices of music are right on the money. His use of both baroque and contemporary pieces works very well.
The cast is quite strong. Kirstin Dahmer does well as the innocent Cecile, initiated into the world of games by Valmont, as does Jessica Bues as Emilie, Valmont's favorite courtesan. Jared Michael Poulin does a nice job in multiple servant roles, but Tom Garruto doesn't seem to have a handle on Azolan, Valmont's servant.
As Danceny, Celine's shy and naive suitor, Matthew Stucky is thoroughly believable, as is Lanie Mac Ewan as Madame de Volanges, Cecile's mother. As the virtuous Madame de Tourvel, Kelly Mares gives a moving performance and Rita Gardner shines as Madame de Rosemonde, Valmont's aunt.
John G. Preston's Valmont is an utterly charming rogue who seems to be competing with the Marquise for fun and mischief, rather than any sort of evil delight or revenge. However Susannah Livingston's Marquise does have the necessary edge of evil under the courtly sophisticated exterior. Miss Livingston gives a powerful and multi-layered performance.
Director Robert Moss has come up with an interesting take on the play. By emphasizing the comedy in Act I, he allows Valmont to seem to be merely heedless rather than malicious, allowing himself to be manipulated by the truly evil Marquise. Mr. Moss has only one real snake, not two in this production, but oddly enough it works. I also liked the way the furniture gradually disappeared. He's left us with a wonderful stage picture at the final curtain. This is an opportunity to see a fine production of a witty and disturbing play.
On a scale of one to five the Syracuse Stage production of LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES gets four and a third oranges. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.