Wit, society and seduction create dangerous liaisons

Les Liaisons Dangereuses runs Nov. 10 to 26 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre

Costume designer Graham McGonagle and director Fran Gebhard display some of the costumes for the coming production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Costume designer Graham McGonagle and director Fran Gebhard display some of the costumes for the coming production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses

From the stunning costumes to the intricate dialogue, Phoenix Theatre’s production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses promises to be a richly layered experience.

Written by acclaimed playwright Christopher Hampton, Les Liaisons Dangereuses is based on the 1782 epistolary novel by Choderlos de Laclos. Hampton later adapted his play for the 1988 Oscar-winning film, Dangerous Liaisons, starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich.

Set in pre-revolutionary France, the story centres around the wealthy widow the Marquise de Merteuil and her social manipulations.

She challenges her former lover, the Vicomte de Valmont, to prove his seductive prowess by playing games at the expense of their respective lovers’ reputations.

Running from Nov. 10 to 26, this is the first mainstage show of the Phoenix Theatre’s 50th anniversary season.

Director Fran Gebhard relished the opportunity to once again present her all-time favourite play, which she directed previously for her masters thesis.

“I adore it,” Gebhard says. “I think it’s the language; certainly it’s fun to love villains and these are such elegant (villains) …

“The dialogue is very challenging for the actors but it’s delicious; it’s as delicious as Shakespeare.”

And then there’s the humour.

“The humour certainly comes from the double entendre – there are a lot of thinly veiled sexual references,” she says. “The two main characters have a lot of fun with each other – it’s sport.”

In planning since mid-April, the production is authentically set in the opulence of late 18th century aristocratic France. An elegant but minimalistic set allows the costumes to help transport both actors and audience.

The play also serves as costume designer Graham McMonagle’s MFA thesis project. The designer’s background in ballet is evident in the elegant, theatrical costumes, hand-dyed and painted by McMonagle, in a palette of neutrals subtly toned to represent each character – pewter for the steely marquise, for example, and peach for the blushing young Madame de Tourvel

“I’ve built a lot of these physically myself, but that’s a real pleasure for me,” says McMonagle, who appreciates the luxury of time and space to research and create.

“The actors are well-dressed,” he says with a smile. “There is a couple of hundred yards of silk out there.”

Similar artistic details provide a common thread between costumes, created in layers to serve both the practical needs of the actors and metaphorical purposes of the characters. The core of the costumes are true to character, he explains, while different layers can be donned or discarded according to the scene or intent.

“We are able to take the idea of layering to the set as well,” Gebhard notes, pointing to the reams of creamy silk intended to appear as if it were the aristocrats’ bedsheets flung up.

Beneath the beautiful clothing, elegant furnishings and richly woven dialogue, however, lies the machinations of a bored elite that indulges in seduction as sport with victory at all costs of increasing importance to both competitors.

This play remains relevant to today’s audience, Gebhard says.

“There’s always sexual manipulation in the world and there are always class distinctions. I think there’s a feminist thread to it and I think that will resonate with audiences today.”

And, she adds, at the end of the day, “I see it as a love story gone awry. The competition just eats them up.”

When & Where

Les Liaisons Dangereuses runs Nov. 10 to 26 (Tuesday to Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and a matinée Nov. 26 at 2 p.m. at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre.

Tickets are $15 to $26, available from the Phoenix box office at 250-721-8000 or in person at the theatre.

For more information, visit www.finearts.uvic.ca/theatre/phoenix/

 

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