Courtesy Stages TheaterLes Liaisons Dangereuses, Christopher Hampton's play fromChoderlos De Laclos' biting 1782 novel that skewered the pre-guillotined French aristocracy, is hailed as a modern comedic and dramatic masterpiece—and it is. Considering the amount of atmospheric set design and skilled acting and directing the play requires, it hardly seems like suitable fare for a small indie theater such as Stages. But, thankfully, the little theater didn't cave in to conventional wisdom, proving once again that with the right combination of skill and vision, indies can put on damn-fine shows, regardless of budgets.
The elitist tale of wit and cruelty revolves around the Marquise de Merteuil (an incredible Arlyn McDonald) who, with the aid of her sometimes lover/always womanizer friend Le Vicomte de Valmont (Brian Kojac), embarks on a plan to ruin the impending marriage of a lover who left her. Valmont has his own sordid outing in the works: he plans to seduce the highly moral Madame de Tourvel (Laura Lynn Orlow). The cruel games intersect, leaving both the Marquise and Valmont unintentionally exposed. Valmont actually falls in love with Tourvel, and the Marquise finds herself in an uncharacteristic jealous rage. The final battle between Marquise and Valmont leaves all players and pawns in shambles; with the French Revolution just around the corner, the dead end up being the lucky ones.
Director Gary Krinke's vision of this debaucherous tale is superb; he has the right cast, exceptional set design, and utilizes inventive staging techniques (in particular, a scene that is lit only by two candles) that spotlight plot points and subliminal themes, keeping us visually stimulated beyond the raunchy dialogue and situations—of which there are many. Even with no eminent threat of Madame Guillotine to our current aristocracy, this story's themes of love and deception are timeless treatises applicable to any peasant of any era, and this production expounds upon them brilliantly. Besides, it shouldn't have been that hard to build a guillotine before Jan. 20, right?
Les Liaisons Dangereuses at Stages Theatre, 400 E. Commonwealth, Fullerton; (714) 525-4484. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m. $12-$15. Through Feb. 12.