THEATER REVIEWS : Early to Bed, Early to Lie, in Bawdy Play of Dangerous Liaisons : Part of the fun is watching a dashing, lecherous, preening and almost annoyingly successful Darren Raleigh in action.
An aristocratic French woman bets her former lover that he can’t seduce the current mistress of another of her former lovers. After some hesitation, the playboy accepts her challenge, and--as Sherlock Holmes would say--the game is afoot! So begins the convoluted plot of an 18th-Century French novel about sex games and duplicity among the pre-Revolutionary upper classes.
Two centuries later, the story enjoyed a renewed burst of popularity when adapted into a hit play and a few films. The best known of those adaptations, Christopher Hampton’s “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” premiered in London in 1985, was brought to New York by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and was made into the 1988 film “Dangerous Liaisons,” starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich.
Hampton’s stage version is playing at the Conejo Players Theater, briskly directed by Mark Andrew Reyes. It’s a lot of fun, with bawdy goings-on made a bit more respectable by virtue of their having taken place a couple of hundred years ago. And because Hampton’s adaptation is recent, the language isn’t as difficult to handle as that of some period plays. It’d make a great date for older teens and young adults . . . but don’t bring your impressionable parents!
Eva Swackhamer plays the Marquise de Merteuil, once slighted by the Vicompte de Valmont (Darren Raleigh), but now enlisting his aid to cuckold another of her former lovers by bedding his current mistress, Cecile (Jeannine Marquie). At first, de Valmont refuses--it would be too easy, he explains, and besides, he is courting the icy and seemingly unapproachable Mme. de Tourvel (Kim Little). De Merteuil offers him a most attractive reward--herself, for one night--and he acquiesces.
Other main characters include Cecile’s snooty mother (Carol Kathleen Taylor); the naive soldier (Justin Lauer) who develops his own passion for Cecile; de Valmont’s servant, Azolan (Christopher S. Field); and a courtesan (Gabbie Mendlesohn), with whom the ever-busy Vicompte de Valmont is carrying on yet another intimate relationship.
Part of the fun is watching the dashing, lecherous, preening and almost annoyingly successful vicompte in action, but there’s more at stake than he realizes, as he and the audience discover at about the same time. And if that isn’t enough, there’s a forewarning of the French Revolution, which began seven years after the novel was published.
The players all give it a good try. Raleigh (who played Petruchio in “The Taming of the Shrew” at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza last year and Tartuffe for the Conejo Players in 1993) is especially effective, and Marquie’s transformation from innocence to worldliness is quite amusing.
Where some of the players fall a bit short is in their efforts to affect an upper-class attitude. Many American actors have the same problem in interpreting characters created by, say, Noel Coward or Oscar Wilde: The accents tend to be overdrawn, perhaps a result of our own relatively classless society.
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* WHAT: “Les Liaisons Dangereuses.”
* WHEN: Thursday through Saturday nights at 8 through Feb. 25.
* WHERE: Conejo Players Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks.
* HOW MUCH: $8 general admission Thursday, $10 Friday and $12 Saturday.
* CALL: For reservations or further information, call 495-3715.
* FYI: Discounts are available for groups, children under 12 and seniors. The play is probably inappropriate for children.