NEW YORK DAILY NEWS LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES REVIEW
Laura Linney finds sexcess with 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses'
by Joe Dziemianowicz
If you think the backstabbers of "The Hills" and "Gossip Girl" are malicious and mean, think again. They're lightweights next to the lethally cruel Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont, who ruin other people's lives (and each other's) for fun. It's Gotcha! - with sex.
The carnal conspirators are back in the sturdy and stylish revival of Christopher Hampton's "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," first seen on Broadway in 1987.
The story and characters are based on Choderlos de Laclos' 18th-century novel, which has inspired a number of movies over the last half-century, including ones with Glenn Close and Annette Bening as the manipulative Merteuil.
Now Laura Linney steps into the role and delivers a mesmerizing performance as she all but disappears into pre-revolutionary France of the 1780s. In the Roundabout Theatre Co. production, that world is realized with plush silk frocks (by Katrina Lindsay) and mirrored salons filled with gilt and chandeliers (by Scott Pask). A pretty setting for an ugly story.
British actor Ben Daniels is bold and lusty (but not creepy, like John Malkovich's celluloid version) as the ravenous Valmont, whose mission is to seduce two women: Virginal Cecile (a high-spirited Mamie Gummer) and pious, married La Presidente de Tourvel (Jessica Collins).
Pulled into the plot are Cecile's high-strung mother (Kristine Nielsen, ever animated) and the callow Le Chevalier Danceny (Benjamin Walker), whom Merteuil takes as a lover.
Director Rufus Norris ("Festen") keeps the intricate plot lines flowing, and his smart use of music (servants double as singers) adds texture and commentary.
Though the story gets sluggish in the long first act, it gains momentum in the second half.
Flashes of flesh and some kinky couplings lend a needed edge, as when Valmont uses a sex partner as a desk, and when Merteuil, leg lifted like a dancer at the barre, dallies with Danceny. Norris has an odd habit of using drapes to conceal actors.
The production's inspired moment comes when Merteuil gets her deserts, fashioned in a way that's fitting for a schemer who spins webs of deceit. The beauty arrives when her face, forever a mask of faux serenity, finally reveals an honest emotion: fear. Gotcha!
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