Divine decadence triumphs at the New Jersey Shakespeare Theater with a.d. Bonnie J. Monte’s steamy production of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses.” Christopher Hampton’s 1985 dramatization of the Choderlos De Laclos novel illustrates sexual intrigue among the pre-revolutionary French nobility. Monte has defined the art of seduction and balanced the dark edge of comedy with an alluring sensual undertow. Stylish casting and lavish design enhance the savage roundelay.
“Cruelty” is the favorite word of the deviously scheming, immoral widow, Marquise de Merteuil, acted by Tamara Tunie with both subtlety and vengeful intimidation. Gareth Saxe plays the rascally Valmont with masculine poise and a villainous steely grace. They are a chillingly devious pair who play a wicked game of bedroom sport.
Erin Partin is the temporarily timorous 15-year-old Cecile, who as tutored by Valmont becomes an insatiable sex kitten. Partin makes the transition from frightened convent girl to spirited teen nympho with coquettish charm.
Roxanna Hope is Valmont’s tentative conquest and a stunningly beautiful, virtuous toy. Her breathless attack of the vapors is both an alarming response to Valmont’s seduction techniques and an ominous preface to her subsequent demise.
There is also stately assist from Elizabeth Shepherd as a wise and comforting aunt and an amusing cushiony interlude by Gardner Reed as a playful courtesan whose backside Valmont employs as a writing desk.
Monte has staged the dark comedy, with its bounty of double and triple entendres, with a sure stylish hand. An ominous and fleeting image of a guillotine appears in the play’s closing moments as a bloody omen of the doom that awaits this frivolous aristocracy.
It seems no sword duel on Broadway or in regional theater can be fought without the deft direction of Rick Sordelet. In his 14th season with the Shakespeare Theater, he has staged a climactic dance of death with the kind of thrust and dash one associates with the bigscreen swashbuckling encounters of Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone.
Marion Williams’ sumptuous set design of boudoirs and drawing rooms is elegantly dressed with billowing drapery, crystal chandeliers, elegant period furniture and spacious beds designed for pleasurable encounters. And the rooms are peopled with players who look ever so handsome in Kim Gill’s ravishing costumes.