Les Liaisons Dangereuses at Central Square Theater
The idea of an all-male Les Liaisons Dangereuses is one that I find appealing. On paper, at least, such a concept could offer up some fascinating observations about gender and sexuality. And even if this classic story of seduction and debauchery failed to be thought-provoking, at least it would be sexy. Right?
Lee Mikeska Gardner’s revival of Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses for the Nora Theatre Company is a terribly confusing, unendingly dull misfire that is as bland as it is long. Not even the accomplished cast, which includes Greg Maraio, Maurice Emmanuel Parent, Eddie Shields, John Tracey, and Dan Whelton, make Liaisons even partway bearable.
The wickedly delicious and slyly sensual story—which most are familiar with from the 1988 John Malkovich and Glenn Close film, Dangerous Liaisons—is convoluted and fast-paced, which is perhaps why the film version remains the most successful version of Hampton’s play (which was itself adapted from the 1782 novel of the same name).
I applaud Mikeska Gardner’s risk taking, but this revival’s all-male concept winds up being nothing but distracting. The characters’ genders have not been changed, so what we’re left with are men dressed like men, adorned with a brooch here or a necklace there, adopting mannerisms of femininity.
Does the production aim to call out our notions about gender? Are these men pretending to be women? Is gender a construct? What does this production want to say? None of this is clear and it seems more of a gimmick than anything else. A more interesting approach might have been to swap the genders of the play’s characters. Indeed, the sight of women taking advantage of the men in their lives would be fulfilling commentary, particularly in the era of #metoo.
The production is woefully lacking in atmosphere, as well. Janie E. Howland’s storybook set pieces evoke the childishness of a school play and John R. Malinowski’s all-or-nothing lighting design is a detriment; Elizabeth Rocha’s costumes, which are all variations of the same white and tan uniform, are a great match for this production in that they are every bit as dull as the rest of it. (Why is one character wearing dance shoes?)
Still, Dan Whelton’s performance as Le Vicomte de Valmont is a compelling one. He’s an extraordinary actor who, with better direction, might have given one of the year’s more alluring performances. A playful John Tracey also makes an impression, yet neither are enough to make this Liaisons anything other than grueling.
LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES. THROUGH 7.1 AT CENTRAL SQUARE THEATER, 450 MASS. AVE., CAMBRIDGE. CENTRALSQUARETHEATER.ORG
DIVAS at OperaHub
This world premiere play by Laura Neill, which runs at the BCA’s Plaza Theatre through June 30, begins promisingly as the cast, in various states of dress, drink wine out of Solo cups and lament the life of working musicians, sexism, and arts funding. But within moments, each of the ladies will have changed into a gown and entered into a sort of paranormal afterlife, and each has taken on the persona of a forgotten opera diva.
It reminded me of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls at first, a play in which a fantasy dinner party occurs featuring different women of history and literature. But such hopes for a dramatically rich evening were dashed as—one by one—each diva touts their accomplishments and life stories (that’s the Wikipedia part) and then follows up with an aria (that’s the concert part).
The able cast of 10 are all impressive singers, which make the concert portion of the evening inoffensive, yet there is no dramatic arc to the evening and, as a result, no emotional investment on the part of the audience. DIVAS feels very much like an experiment, which it may well be, but it certainly isn’t a fully realized piece of theater.
DIVAS. THROUGH 6.30 AT OPERAHUB AT THE BCA PLAZA THEATRE, 539 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. OPERAHUB.ORG