Thursday, January 19, 2017

Bien joué and thumbs up to New Fortune’s “ Les Liaisons Dangereuses”

Let’s face it the art of making love is well… an art. The art of making love looking like the art of making love is well…another form of art. But to the widow (and that’s the way she likes it) the Marquise de Merteuil (Jessica John) and her cohort in crimes of the heart ex lover Vicomte de Valmont (Richard Baird), the art of making deceptive love as a challenge to those on the other side of the marker becomes a game of ‘dangerous liaisons.’ Both have nurtured this work of art to perfection.

New Fortune Theatre, under the direction of company artistic director and co- founder Richard Baird with co-director Kaitlin O’Neal, is presenting the revival of Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of the 1782 novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.

As one of the ushers was explaining to a patron the night I attended, “It has lots of exposition.” In other words it’s talky. What she failed to say was that it was also stylish, elegant and posh. Guilio Perrone designed the minimal and functional set pieces and Howard Schmitt the period costumes. Missy Bradstreet is responsible for the assorted wigs.

Richard Baird and Connor Sullivan
It is also beautifully choreographed. From the movements of the last piece of furniture to the dueling scenes and the looks and sneers on co conspirator’s faces (J. Tyler Jones flight choreographer) nothing misses a step. This happens throughout as the excellently coordinated and strong ensemble is emerged solidly in character.

The story, while fraught with intrigue, dishonesty, betrayal corruption, greed and snobbery plays into the hands of the idle rich in de Laclos’ pre revolutionary France novel. It’s no wonder the French people took to revolting.

Jessica John and Richard Baird
Liaisons hit the Broadway stages just last year and before that in 1987 and 2008 and in 1988 the movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards.

To say that it is a difficult piece to put together would be an understatement. It’s big, takes place at several locations; salons, bedroom chambers and chateaux in and around France during one autumn and winter season in 1780’s. The characters, while seemingly straightforward in their beliefs are more complicated than a Rubik’s Cube.

Most small theatres just don’t take it on. I believe I saw it mounted here once when Moonlight (Winter Playhouse) Amphitheatre had an indoor season in Vista. That was in 1992. Now it’s New Fortune Theatre’s time. They hit the nail on the head with this visceral and yes, talky production. 

What? You wanted more sex? Use your imaginations.

The Marquise and Valmont were once lovers.  Now they enjoy engaging in dangerous games involving and oft time destroying the lives of innocent people caught in their web. They still have a perverted interest in one another, but instead of making love for pleasure they take pleasure in ruining reputations.

Baird and Amanda Schaar

As the play opens the Marques offers Valmont the ultimate challenge to seduce Cécile de Volanges (Gentry Roth) an innocent, wet behind the ears woman child, just returned home from the convent. The Marques is so enthused about the challenge that she offers herself as the grand prize if Valmont succeeds. Valmont has plans of his own. He’s more interested in Madame de Tourvel (Amanda Schaar). She’s married, religious to a fault and for Valmont, a much bigger reward.

The games begin. The chemistry boils, broils and sparkles between Baird and John from beginning to end even as their nasty little plots begin to unravel beneath their feet. But just watching the glee, the penetrating looks and  body language is enough to make you want to squirm and wonder what motivates this destructive behavior. 

Jessica John and Richard Baird
Expect it or not, one will die and the other will be without a playmate. With eyes focused and snares flaring, the casting of these two local award winning actors playing against each other is a casting coup. 

What fun, in a rather perverted way (and I say that for myself), to watch the two get to play cat and mouse with each other. Baird who has a penetrating look even when not in character, is razor sharp when confronting the just as focused John, who is more than satisfied looking in on her ex lover as she pushes him to the limits of his skills only to land the booby prize in the end.

Dagmar Fields, Terril Miller and Richard Baird

Support comes, as mentioned earlier, from all sides of the coin. Danceny as played by Connor Sullivan, whom we’ve seen in at least three past productions, is a hoot as he all but drools and genuflects for Cécile, but ends up in Merteuil’s bed.

Others come together to make this one hell of a show. Dagmar Fields plays Valmont’s aunt with suspicion focused on her nephew. Terril Miller is Cécile’s mother Madame de Volanges. She's too interested in herself to really worry about her daughter. Justin Lang is Valmont’s valet, Christopher Torborg is a footman, Crystal Brandon is Julies maid and Taylor Henderson is Emile, the courtesan used by Valmont to keep Merteuil on her guard. It's all so nasty as in every definition of the word. 

Baird and company deserve kudos for taking on this huge undertaking. Check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

See you at the theatre.


Dates: Through Jan 28th
Organization: New Fortune Theatre
Phone: 619.544.1000
Production Type: Drama
Where: 79 Horton Plaza Downtown San Diego
Ticket Prices: $20.00-$47.00
Web: newfortunetheatre.org
Venue: Lyceum Space

Photo: Daren Scott

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