Les Liaison Dangereuses on stage in Toronto feels more thought-provoking than libido-provoking
When I heard that Red One Theatre Collective / Storefront Theatre was producing Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaison Dangereuses I knew I had to see it.
First, who can resist sexy plays? And Les Liaison Dangereuses? Such a sexy, sexy play. Second, the film Dangerous Liaisons, which is also an adaptation by Christopher Hampton, is actually one of my favourite films ever, and again, so very sexy.
There was a lot to really like about this production, and overall I enjoyed it, but for different reasons than I expected to.
Ironically, the biggest thing that was missing in this production for me was the sexy. Don’t get me wrong, the motions were there. Simulated penetration, simulated oral sex, so much kissing. But what was missing was the sexual tension.
The truth is, as clichéd as it sounds, so much of sexy comes from sexual tension and anticipation. Without the sexual tension, the anticipation doesn’t exist, and when the kissing or screwing finally happens, it isn’t actually releasing anything. There’s no “ahhh, yes!” moment. It’s just another action on stage, like a sword fight or something of the like.
I was at the opening night performance, so maybe that’s something that will develop more over time, although I would have liked to have seen it there already. There were a couple other hiccups that I would attribute to opening night, such as some stumbling over lines and a bit of low energy, especially in the beginning.
It’s something I have found can be a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Lines get dropped because energy is low, or maybe energy is low because some lines have been dropped, and then it can turn into a bit of a vicious cycle until something kicks in and gets the actors back on their feet. So, I spent the first ten or fifteen minutes of the show wishing the actors had done a more vigorous warm-up, because once they were warmed up and dropped more fully into character I was far more engaged in the piece.
As I said in the beginning though, despite it not being as sexy as I was anticipating and the other hiccups, I enjoyed the production. Les Liaison Dangereuses is much more than just a sexy piece. It is also about the emotional games people play in general, and about the gamification of sex specifically. It is an interesting study in human nature. As John, my show partner for this one (and partner in life) said: the piece was “sometimes profoundly disturbing, often funny, very interesting, but not sexy.”
Oh, one incredibly sexy thing about the show was the original live score on upright bass, sometimes plucked, sometimes bowed, composed and performed by Jason O’Brien. Actually, the people in the show were all incredibly sexy. I don’t mean just physically (but oh my!), I mean, it was a stage filled with talented actors and there was no one on the stage that felt like they didn’t belong.
Something that was interesting for me was that the performances that really stood out for me were the folks playing smaller parts in the show. Joy Tanner’s Madame de Volange felt just about perfect to me. From pretty much his first moments on stage, I adored Edward Charette’s Cevalier Danceny, and I was kind of in love with Kat Letwin’s courtesan, Emilie.
I also really enjoyed Holly Lloyd’s costume design for the piece, it was sexy and elegant. Each character’s costume really suited them. And, while there were some directorial choices I didn’t necessarily agree with – but that I don’t want to get into specifically because they’d be pretty big spoilers – there was a lot to like about Jakob Ehman’s direction of the piece.
Ultimately though what we walked away feeling like was that it was good, but not great. It was fine, we were happy to have seen it, it was a nice way to spend an evening, but we weren’t blown away by it. I think it could still be all the things it was, and also be unbelievably sexy. Then, then it would have been fantastic.
The piece has a lot going for it, and is worth seeing as it is. It will also get stronger as the run continues. Hopefully, one of the ways it gets stronger is that Vicomte de Valmont (played by Daniel Briere) will radiate sexuality at all times. Then we will be able to believe that everyone who gets within a certain radius of him wants to fuck him and are doing all they can to hold themselves back. That, to me, is the underpinning of Les Liaison Dangeruses, everything else piles on top of that delicious layer.
- Les Liaisons Dangeruses is playing until February 21, 2015 at the Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor St W)
- Shows run 8pm Wednesday to Sunday, with an additional 2pm matinee on Saturday February 21 (the matinee originally scheduled for February 14 unfortunately had to be cancelled due to an actor conflict)
- Tickets are $25 a the door and $27 (plus service fee) in advance online
Photo of Caroline Toal and Daniel Briere by John Gundy