“Les Liaisons Dangereuses” is perhaps the antithesis of all things romantic. Adapted from the 1782 novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, “Liaisons” introduces audiences to the hedonistic French aristocracy of the 18th century. The Stanford Theater Lab performance, which opened Thursday night, wows audiences with equal parts opulence and modernity.
Though the supporting cast is carefully woven into its plot, “Liaisons” is, at its heart, a tale of two lovers. The theme of the show is, in a word, sex. The play centers on the Vicompte de Valmont (Paul Princen ‘13), whose female equivalent, the Marquise de Merteuil (Safiya Nygaard ‘14), leads him on a vicious game of seduction culminating in a love pentagon with their younger, more innocent counterparts, Tourvel (Jessica Waldman ‘15), Voulanges (Max Walker-Silverman ‘15) and Cécile (Kasie Udo-Okoye ‘15).
Princen is a near-flawless Valmont, whose perfect arrogance and perpetual smirks play second fiddle only to those of his lady-love, Merteuil. “Liaisons” is heavy on the scenes between these two; fortunately, both actors have the talent to carry most of the emotional weight of “Liaisons.” Nygaard, in particular, is nothing short of wicked, and her character never wavers for an instant; yet, her blunt assessments (“Women,” she says, “are obliged to be far more skillful than men”) and feminist leanings have us rooting for her almost the entire time. Princen, too, brings a malicious wit to the script, effortlessly switching between ice-cold upper-cruster and shameless, masterful womanizer.
The Stanford production of “Liaisons” is a study in contrasts. The sight of an 18th-century, corseted French woman reading a love letter off a MacBook Pro is somewhat jarring, and yet director and producer David Raymond ‘13–for whom “Liaisons” is a senior project–brings a Luhrmann-esque quality to the production that feels updated rather than gaudy. Between scenes, we are courted by Lana Del Rey and hip-hop; even the set itself, a meticulously geometric stage arrangement supplemented by plush lounge chairs and rich fabrics, nods to the frivolity of Marie Antoinette’s reign.
With sex, lies and betrayal as its selling factors, “Liaisons” stands out as a stellar, modern production of a classic tale, with the help of a high-power cast and design.
“Les Liaisons Dangereuses” will be playing May 9-11 at 8 p.m. in the Nitery Theater. Admission is free.