Student actors put on performance of 18th century French novel
In the first few moments of the “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”, Marquise de Mertueil claims that “Love is something you use, not something you fall into like quicksand,” setting the tone for the crafty, complex play that follows.
“Les Liaisons Dangereuses” ran from April 9-18 at the University Theater.
The story, adapted from a 1782 novel written by Pierre Choderlos de Lacios, focuses on the schemes of the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vitcomte de Valmont as they conspire to use sex as a weapon of revenge.
After being abandoned by a partner, Merteuil enlists the help of Valmont to deflower the future wife of Merteuil’s former lover, Cecile, in order to make a fool of him. After initial resistance, Valmont agrees to help, while also pursuing the married Madame de Tourvel.
The relationships between characters become increasingly complicated as Merteuil takes Danceny, Cecile’s romantic interest, as a lover, while simultaneously forcing Cecile and Danceny to engage in an affair.
Running a little over two hours, the play ends Johnny Cash’s “Hurt.” The music builds after the final line of dialogue is spoken with Cash singing: “I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real.”
Director Brad Baker, a lecturer in the School of Arts and Humanities and a professor of theatre at the Collin Theatre Center, said he focused primarily on the flow of the play while directing.
“Everything that I direct has a flow to it. It has a cinematic quality, merging from one scene to the next,” Baker said. “This shoves the play forward and puts the agenda of the characters front and forward.”
The result is a show that is fast-paced in spite of its slow, drawing-room nature. Set changes and lighting shifts occur during scenes, adding to the rapid-fire style of the play.
Baker said the flow he developed cut about forty minutes from the run time of the show. One consequence is that main character Velmont, played by psychology sophomore Zach Lair, almost never leaves the stage.
The show has multiple sex scenes, as well as a rape scene. Jennifer Quiors, an arts and performance and speech pathology and audiology junior, played Madame de Tourvel, a character involved in one of the more risqué scenes in the play.
“(The director) was extremely respectful,” Quiros said. “It was very much about feeling comfortable with Zach to be very intimate with him, and the audiences have been fantastic about being very serious and mature about the content.”
Baker said that he approached the sensitive material with a sense of delicacy, focusing on the comfort level of his actors. Tahesin Asgar, an EMAC freshman, plays Cecile Volanges, who is the victim of the rape scene in the play.
“It’s hard to do something that’s so personal and try to do it so fast,” Asgar said. “I just made sure that every time we had to do something new we would take a minute and talk it through first.”
The actors all agreed that communication was essential to handling the sexual material in the drama. Baker views it as a plot device to reveal the meaning of the play, rather than the real focus.
“Sexuality, ironically, doesn’t play into (it) at all. Sex is part of a game,” Baker said. “At the very end of the play, my take on the entire play is summed up in the song that plays in the final moment.”