POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Apr 10, 2011
For most of Hollywood's "Golden Age," film industry production codes required that all sinners suffered and no crime went unpunished.
French novelist Pierre Choderlos de Laclos wrote "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" in 1782, but as adapted by Christopher Hampton and staged this month at Hawaii Pacific University, the story conforms to "Golden Age" morality codes in almost every respect.
The Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont — former lovers, now confidants — see sexual conquests as the best form of revenge. Merteuil wants revenge on a man who dumped her to marry Cecile de Volanges, a teenager fresh out of convent school. Valmont sees no challenge in seducing a virgin on Merteuil's account. His objective is Madame de Tourvel, a married woman whose famed virtue makes her an irresistible challenge. Merteuil tells Valmont that if he provides her with written proof that he succeeded in seducing Madame de Tourvel, she will have sex with him.
"LE LIAISONS DANGEREUSES (DANGEROUS LIAISONS)"Where: Hawaii Pacific University, 45-045 Kamehameha Highway
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through May 1
Cost: $25; $15 students, seniors, HPU faculty and staff; $5 HPU students; special Thursday discount
Valmont discovers that Cecile's mother has warned Madame de Tourvel about his probable intentions. That changes his mind about seducing a virgin; he has his way with Cecile and then moves to sabotage the pending marriage.
Merteuil and Valmont pose as friends of Cecile and the young man she loves, Chevalier Danceny, while using them to advance their own schemes.
Act I is a witty, sardonic drawing-room comedy full of memorable one-liners. The protagonists are likable enough, and some of the other characters are so priggish or easily manipulated that there is little emotional investment in their fate.
Act II is much darker. Listening to a man lie shamelessly to a woman he wants only as a momentary sexual trophy — and who has done no wrong to him — eventually becomes painful rather than enjoyable.
Taken in its entirety, the "comedy" turns out to be closer to "A Rake's Progress."
HPU's production is much less "French" in ambiance than it could be, but the tragedy plays out in gripping style. Sara Cate Langham (Madame de Tourvel) is breathtaking as the innocent and virtuous victim of Valmont's intrigues. Her performance feels so real that the moral balance of the story pivots upon it.
Reb Beau Allen (Valmont) does not seem aristocratic but his acting reveals the emotions Valmont usually keeps hidden behind his rakehell facade. Lucia Milone Williams (Merteuil) makes her Hawaii stage debut a memorable one. In her portrayal of Valmont's nemesis we see viciousness and moral depravity in full measure, but the origins of those dark qualities are illuminated as well.
Ingrid Hagen-Keith (Cecile) makes a delightful impression as the innocent seductee, Beth E. Barry is spot on as Cecile's well-intentioned but easily misled mother, Betty Burdick (Madame de Rosemonde) adds gravity and humor as Valmont's wise and wealthy aunt, and Aaron Roberge (Danceny) does an excellent job with the comic role of Cecile's awkward young suitor.
Ironically, playwright Hampton evidently found Laclos' ending too dark for contemporary audiences and changed it so that one venomous creature survives apparently unscathed.