- Boston Theatre Critic
Now playing at Central Square Theater (Cambridge, MA) is Les Liaisons Dangereuses presented by The Nora Theatre Company. The novel, of the same name, was written in 1782 by Pierre-Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos. Two hundred years later Christopher Hampton penned the play that would go on to premiere at The Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985. While the story is familiar and has been produced a myriad of ways, in this version all ten characters, including six women, are portrayed by an all-male cast. Director Lee Mikeska Gardner first did this play with an all-male cast when she directed a production in Washington, D.C. in 2005 and wanted to direct a similar production here in Boston over a decade later. This concept is a new, intriguing way to tell an old story and I’m sure while some are confused by it, others are curious to see how it would play out on stage.
The play opens with the cast, dressed in neutral trousers and various white shirts, stationed around the simplistically designed stage. One at a time they walk to a table placed down stage center and select an accessory that has something to do with their character. Items included a bejeweled choker, a flask, a ring, and a scarf, to name a few. Upon selecting their item they make a clear gesture or facial expression that gives us a hint as to whom they will be portraying. After just these first few moments I could tell, as I looked at the audience around me, that they were eager to see this unique concept unfold.
This story of seduction, deception, manipulation and jealousy is set in France amongst the aristocracy before the revolution. Humor is laced throughout with subtle, provocative jokes that in some cases were made more blatant due to the execution by the actors. While some of the performances lacked believability, and were rather mediocre, others kept the audience engaged in the story. Two of these were lead actors Greg Maraio and Dan Whelton whose amusing sparring sessions kept the intensity high. Greg Maraio, who portrayed La Marquise de Merteuil, gave a nuanced performance showing the audience just how calculating and clever the Marquise is. Rarely does the Marquise show all her cards. She has a powerful magnetism that seduces those around her, including Dan Whelton’s character Le Vicomte de Valmont. Valmont is, in many instances, the toy that La Marquise de Merteuil enjoys playing with and mistreating. When he falls in love with La Presidente de Tourvel, Merteuil’s jealous reaction confirms she will not be crossed. Valmont is standing up for himself, but it’s a little too late as his defiance leads to his demise. Whelton and Maraio’s scenes were often fiery with a mix of deep rooted passion and visceral distain. Maraio’s portrayal was not only sophisticated, strong and sultry, but he also showed the vulnerability of his character. He fully embodied not only the personality of his character, but the physical aspects as well, from the way he held his body, shoulders back and chest lifted as if he wore an invisible corset, to the way he spoke, crisply with the proper diction of an elite aristocrat. Maraio’s performance as La Marquise de Merteuil is a surefire highlight in this production.
The company notes this production contains full nudity, sexual content, violence and a sword fight and advises audience members be over the age of 18. I, however, found the nudity to be unnecessary and a bit detrimental to the concept of men playing the female roles. That being said, this old classic was artistically given new life that will hopefully appeal to a younger, more diverse audience. © Running at two and a half hours including intermission Les Liaisons Dangereuses plays until July 1st. Tickets and more information can be found at CentralSquareTheater.org.
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