Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 8, 2010

Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through March, 21, 2010
by Shera Cohen

Most of the characters in "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" are evil personified. They are also smart, handsome, sophisticated, highbrow, cunning, vengeful, and, "evil" bears repeating.

Christopher Hampton's play, set in 1780s Paris, is created as a game, both visually and verbally. The squares on the floor and the sharp banter between the two lead roles add up to a championship chess competition. The stakes are high, even for the winner. At play's end, it is difficult to determine who loses more.

"Liaisons" is mounted at the intimate Bernstein Theatre. The 18 scenes fluently move from one to the next in the form of dance, accompanied by period music. From the play's opening note, the chess/dance begins. Clever at first, the characters' jumping from square to square becomes too obvious. It is safe to say that everyone in the audience "got it" - this is a deadly match, albeit with some humor.

It is hard to believe that, when last seen at Shakespeare, Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Josh Aaron McCabe each starred in comedies. They were uproarious, throwing themselves (even physically) into their roles. While reserved in demeanor that befits "Liaison's" characters, the actors portray villains with capital "Vs". Aspenlieder's Marquise is the brighter and worse of the two, excusing her motives because she is of the weaker sex. Ha! McCabe's Vicomte pads his evil ways with humor, making him a bit more palatable as a human being. Aspenlieder surpasses herself in each new role. McCabe has not appeared often to date, but one hopes he will.

Tina Packer directs her actors in supporting roles, some with more stage time than others, so that each embodies a character not to be forgotten. Tony Simotes is to be credited as choreographer of the lengthy frightening sword and dagger fight in Act II.

Normal human emotions of jealousy and revenge, betrayal and cruelty run rampant among "Liaison's" population. The play is far more than a battle of the sexes. Good vs. evil is too simplistic. The Marquise exclaims, "This is war!" And the audience relishes every evil moment. For mature audiences.