Theater Review: “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”

The Marquise de Mertueil (right) and the Vicomte de Valmont (left) provoke one another to seduce various members of the French aristocracy. 

Megan Gilbert

The audience scurries to their seats as the lights go down in Fisher Theater, signaling the beginning of a performance.

“Les Liaisons Dangereuses” is a play about a former couple’s game of seduction and revenge, which is brought to life through precise dialogue.

 “You have to really be listening to understand some of the underlying messages,” said Michael Clinkscales, who plays the lead, le Vicomte de Valmont.

The language moves quickly and is filled with subtle humor and is entertaining for those who pay attention to character interaction and word usage, Clinkscales said.

The cast ran lines for months prior to opening night in order to execute the complex dialogue correctly, said Taylor Millar, who appears as the leading lady, la Marquise de Merteuil.

The cast delved into their new personas through extensive explanation of the acting and language of the play.

“We entertain ourselves with words and manipulating others,” Millar said of the Marquise and the Vicomte.

Frequent sexual innuendos elicit laughter from the audience. The dialogue makes use of puns to reveal their ominous intentions.

“Les Liaisons Dangereuses” is more sensual than other productions by Iowa State University’s Theater Department, said Vivian Cook, a member of the theater department, who enjoyed the performance from the audience.       

The novel from which this play was adapted, “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, written in the 18th century, is much more sinister and uses letters to drive the plot line.

“There is a seductive thought behind a letter,” Millar said.

These letters are used as proof of the sensual undertakings of the Marquise and the Vicomte.  

The set pulls the audience into the salon of an elegant French château that sports three French doors and thick, white paneling that contrasts the hardwood floors and silken curtains, and upon this rich set, conquests of love, desire and revenge are sought out.

“Everything in the play serves a purpose,” said Emily Zapotocny, who plays Cécile de Volanges, a young girl who is seduced by the Vicomte.         

Cécile has just left the convent to marry the Marquise’s former lover, by whom she was discarded, and resolves to get her revenge, challenging the Vicomte to corrupt the young girl.

Tensions grow between the Marquise and the Vicomte as their conspiracy of seduction and manipulation begins to deteriorate. Their conversations hold less comedic material and focus on what the Vicomte must do to please the Marquise.

Pressured by the Marquise, the Vicomte pursues Madame de Tourvel, a married and virtuous woman, and falls in love.

In a jealous rage, the Marquise convinces the Vicomte to leave Madame de Tourvel, promising him a night of passion for doing so, and declares war when she realizes that the Vicomte will never reciprocate her love for him.

The Vicomte is killed in a duel, and, as he draws his last breath, he presents the letters that prove the Marquise’s involvement in his charades of seduction.

In an attempt to preserve her reputation, the Marquise carries on.

“I suggest our best course is to continue with the game,” said the Marquise, and the stage lights went down, blanketing the set in darkness as applause rose from the audience.

Additional performances will be at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. 

Tickets are available through the Iowa State Center Ticket Office or on the Ticketmaster website.