The new Broadway revival of Christopher Hampton’s crowd-pleasing erotic thriller “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” which originated at London’s Donmar Warehouse and stars Janet McTeer and Liev Schreiber, is puzzling enough to fall into the category of “what were they thinking?“
Based upon the 1782 novel of the same name (which also inspired the 1999 teen film “Cruel Intentions”), “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” revolves around the vicious and manipulative games played by the Marquise de Merteuil (McTeer) and Vicomte de Valmont (Schreiber), who aim to dominate and humiliate other members of upper-crust French society.
They come to an arrangement: in exchange for Valmont wooing and bedding both the young, virginal Cécile (Elena Kampouris) and the faithful, married Madame de Tourvel (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), Merteuil will sleep with Valmont, but complications arise that lead to a bitter end.
Following the original 1987 Broadway staging (led by the late Alan Rickman), the play received an Oscar-winning film adaptation (with Glenn Close and John Malkovich) and a fine 2008 revival (with Ben Daniels and Laura Linney).
Director Josie Rourke has managed to take the fun and suspense out of this well-made drama through bad casting and design choices, leaving a disjointed, dull and dragging production.
The scenic design (by Tom Scutt) involves a dilapidated home setting that is emptied out bit by bit, which is distracting and ineffective since the play actually requires multiple indoor and outdoor settings, not a conceptual gimmick.
Schreiber’s Valmont is disengaged and stiff instead of smooth and sexy. He looks uncomfortable and out of place in a period wig and dressy attire. McTeer gives an authoritative performance as the devilish Merteuil, but she has zero chemistry with Schreiber. The real find of this production is Sørensen, a Danish actress, who makes for a vulnerable and beautiful Tourvel.
If you go: “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” plays at the Booth Theatre through Jan. 22. 222 W. 45th St., liaisonsbroadway.com