Karen Knox & Daniel Briere
DANGEROUS LIAISONS by Christopher Hampton (Red One Theatre). At the Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor West). Runs to February 21, Wednesday-Sunday 8 pm, matinee Sat 2 pm. $25. secureaseat.com. Rating: NNN
Based on an 18th-century French novel, Dangerous Liaisons is a wickedly entertaining mix of seduction, love, sex and cruelty.
Red One Theatre Collective’s production, directed by Jakob Ehman, captures some of the script’s sizzle, but the overall tension and the central characters’ underlying heartlessness and competition could be sharper.
Angry with her former lover, the Marquise de Merteuil (Claire Burns) plots to have the man’s virginal bride-to-be, Cecile (Caroline Toal), seduced before the wedding. She tries to enlist another of her former lovers, the Vicomte de Valmont (Daniel Briere), for the task, but he is intent on his own conquest of the demure, religious Madame de Tourvel (Karen Knox).
What follows is a series of gambles, plots and manipulations, including Valmont’s becoming involved in Merteuil’s plan to bring Cecile down when he discovers that Cecile’s mother (Joy Tanner) has warned Tourvel about his seductive ways. Meanwhile, Merteuil encourages Cecile to fall in love with the young innocent Danceny (Edward Charette), her music teacher.
Ehman’s staging, featuring smart couturier costume design by Holly Lloyd, captures the elegance of the language and the frequent turns of the plot, but the cold sensuality between Merteuil and Valmont is only there occasionally. Still, Briere has the appropriate charm, the ability to change seductive tactics in a second and an engaging quality with those he wants to win over. Burns smoulders with Merteuil’s anger – part of it vengeance directed at a patriarchal society – and understands the right tone to take with women whose confidences she needs in order to continue her plotting.
Some of the best scenes are between Valmont and Tourvel, as he little by little brings to the surface her unspoken desire for him. Knox plays Tourvel’s arc from devout wife to tempted mistress with some fine grace notes, and Briere’s Valmont knows just how carefully to push for his desires.
Toal captures Cecile’s incipient coquetry nicely, while Tanner as her mother has the right sophisticated aloofness. Debora Joy gives a tone of down-to-earth practicality to Valmont’s aunt, and Kat Letwin has a few bubbly comic scenes as a woman happily having occasional sex with Valmont. Brenhan McKibben makes Azolan, Valmont’s servant, an earthy part of his master’s plan.
You’ll find good moments in this production, but a little more danger and nastiness wouldn’t hurt.