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A production as ambitious as Les Liaisons Dangereuses required meticulous direction, skillful acting and months of research — tasks Emmanuel’s cast and crew owned up to.
On the evenings of November 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, and 22 Les Liaisons Dangereuses was performed. Known as Dangerous Liaisons in English, the play inspired the 1999 film Cruel Intentions.
A play such as Les Liaisons Dangereuses, set in as distant a time and place as pre-revolutionary, 18th century France requires far more behind the scenes work than the department’s more recent, modern productions.
Scott Gagnon, Director and Emmanuel College Professor, explained that the difficulty of the production was the precise reason why it had been selected as the Fall Showcase Production.
“When I sat down with students to discuss selecting a piece, the first thing they said was that they wanted a challenge,” Gagnon said. “Although this piece is an extremely difficult one to pull off, the students insisted that it was vital to their education to test the bounds of their abilities. The world of Les Liaisons Dangereuses was an alien one, but the cast and crew met up to the challenge by putting in copious work and research.”
Students dedicated entirely to research instructed the actors in how to walk, talk, dress, and do tasks as seemingly simple as use a fan. A professional instructor was brought in to prepare students for a fencing scene at the plays climax.
Gagnon noted that, “Les Liaisons Dangereuses is set in an era with customs entirely foreign to us today. The cast had to relearn how to walk and talk, but also had to learn new tasks such as fencing and the art of using a fan. The actors had to learn many new skills, as well as adapt their personas to the era and location of the play.”
Relating the play to events of today, systematic inequality in the United States and beyond, Gagnon explained, “The French Revolution was particularly bloody, with many former aristocrats meeting their end at the guillotine. The novel condemned the hedonistic and unethical lives of the super-rich aristocracy, who, ironically, loved the novel. While modern structures may look different, the problem of “the 1%,” or the redistribution of wealth, is one that we still face today.”
While Les Liaisons Dangereuses may be set in the seemingly distant past, it forces us all to recognize the cyclical nature of human history and question the futility, but ever present necessity, of the revolutionary effort.
Elizabeth Keith’s ’16 Marquise de Merteuil and Jordan Lindley’s ’16 Vicomte de Valmont lead the cast in a tumultuous journey of love, deception, and seduction. Keith shines in her speaking, and in her undeniable transformation into her character. Lindley, on the other hand, found the Vicomte most in his moments silence and response.
Other notable performances were seen from Elisabeth Staal ’16 as Madame de Volanges, and Temma Beaudreau ’18, as her daughter, Cecile de Volanges.
The first act opens with Marquise de Merteuil, playing cards in her salon with Madame de Volanges, and the young Cecile de Volanges.
After laying groundwork for a friendship with naive Cecile and her mother, the Marquise ushers them out to meet an old friend — the Vicomte de Valmont. The pair scheme for the Vicomte to seduce Cecile de Volanges in an act of revenge against an old flame of the Marquise.
While engaging in this seduction, the Vicomte must also contend with his love for the married Madame la Presidente de Tourvel, whom he must conquer in order to receive the favors of the Marquise herself. The Marquise, however, does not make this an easy task for any character involved.
At intermission the curtains closed, and the audience was encouraged to pull out their phones. Gagnon encouraged the crowd by informing us that, “The original novel was an epistolary novel, or a novel of letters, meaning that most of the action of the novel takes place within letters between the characters. Had they been real, the characters would have written, sent, and received correspondence eagerly throughout the day…kind of like how we use Twitter today. So, during intermission, the characters will be available for members of the audience to tweet questions to and they will respond in character to all of the Twitter correspondence they receive.”
In the second act violence, disease, and dishonor overwhelm the cast, with both the innocent and guilty suffering. While the Vicomte meets a timely end, the Marquise is left alive but disfigured. Madame la Presidente de Tourvel dies from illness after her seduction, and Cecile is likewise sent to a convent.
Although it may have been a daunting task, Emmanuel’s cast and crew succeeded in bringing to life a fantastic rendition of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The supporting work of student researchers, costume makers and designers, supported the actors’ talents to create an absorbing and relevant production.