Too much wealth! Too little to do! That’s a recipe for bad behavior, and we certainly get it in Christopher Hampton’s “Dangerous Liaisons,” a play first presented by England’s Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985. Since then it has stunned and delighted audiences around the world both in film and on many, many stages. This Seattle production provides us with all its power.
Adapted from an eighteenth century novel, it focuses on the sadistic and manipulative behavior of the bored Marquise de Merteuil and her ex-lover Le Vicomte de Valmont. Sex is the weapon in their cruel games of humiliation and degradation. How else to fill time than by manipulating others? Identify victims (the more innocent the better), involve them in trysts that can ruin their reputations if not their lives. Then add them to the list of conquests.
Here, James DeVita as Valmont is simply brilliant! His performance is riveting. He’s so suave, self-assured, and brilliant at seduction, whether it’s seduction of an innocent or a world-wise woman of the court. And it’s not just the way he speaks. His body says as much as his words. He’s a feral animal ensnaring its prey.
Kirsten Potter as the Marquise is also quite wonderful to watch. Her confident movements and expressive face speak to her character as much as do her words. Don’t count on kindness when this woman smiles.
Catherine Hunt’s costumes are glorious! Valmont’s elaborately embroidered waistcoats are emblematic of the time period. The women wear flowing skirts that swirl across the stage. Their waists are nipped, and their breasts pushed up near the collarbone. Elegant jewels accompany sumptuous fabrics. Ah yes, who would guess the tumbrils will be rolling in just a few years?
Another winning part of this production is the set and lighting by Brian Sidney Bembridge. It’s minimalist, period, and contemporary all in one. From the enormous geometrically mirrored overhang and the unexpected but brilliant use of neon to the gilt ornamented doorway and elaborate pieces of 18th C. French furniture, the mixture evokes past and present, reinforcing the idea that bad behavior transcends time.
Be prepared to be mesmerized!
Through Nov. 20 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle (206 292-7676 or acttheatre.org).