Had me a busy little computer day yesterday…after a week and a bit of recording interviews for upcoming Fringe Festival shows, it was time to finally bite the bullet and start actually transcribing the bloody things. And yikes, that took a few more hours than I’d planned, and I’m just over half done! But they’re gonna be gooders, I think…and more than that, I thought that after five hours straight of typing them out, I deserved a treat. And with me, generally speaking, treat=theatre.
So I called up my best gal, aka Nadine Thornhill of Adorkable Undies, and off we hustled to the gala premiere of DANGEROUS LIAISONS at the Ottawa Little Theatre. This is the final show of their 99th (whew!) Season, and something of a thematic change for the OLT gang. DL, after all, is rather infamous as a morally skewed story, spotlighting manipulative, narcissistic protagonists hovering just this side of straight-up evil (or on the other side, depending on how you see them). Cruelty is exemplified, innocence is corrupted, and it’s rather hard for the good guys to win when nobody in sight is particularly good to begin with. In other words, a fun time.
Set in pre-revolutionary France amidst a hotbed of bored and self-indulgent aristocracy, Christopher Hampton’s tale centers around the relationship/power struggle between two very memorable leads…the Marquise de Merteuil (Venetia Lawless), a brilliantly twisted widow who has elevated deceit to an art form, and her male counterpart the Viscount de Valmont (John Muggleton), a predatory lothario who has set himself a grand task of seduction. It seems the legendarily chaste and Christian lady, Madame de Tourvel (Heather Archibald), is staying with his rich Aunt Madame de Rosemonde (Sheila Shields), and Valmont has her conquest in his sights. The Marquise, however, wants him to seduce the doe-eyed Cecile Volanges (Sara Duplancic), as part of a labyrinthine plot of revenge against an ex-lover. A grudge against Cecile’s buttinksy Mother (Jenn Keay) convinces Valmont to go along, even as the Marquise launches a bet concerning his plot with Madame de Tourvel that will have dire repercussions for all involved.
Still following along? It’s some morally grey-to-grim stuff, with plenty of steamy scenarios and perfectly reprehensible behaviour, and not at all your usual community theatre fare. And I sure as heck never expected to hear a soundtrack consisting of David Bowie and Adele at the OLT, though I found them both very welcome indeed. The set was sparse but gorgeous, and neatly designed for the numerous scene changes the play requires. And gorgeous costumes? Naturally…period dramas are what places like the OLT live for, and they made no missteps on the wardrobe for this one.
As for the performances, I thought they were solid across the board. Venetia Lawless, who I don’t think I’ve ever caught before, seriously impressed as the cruel and confident Marquise, taking easy charge of nearly every scene she was in. Her ‘origin’ monologue, explaining the path that made her the woman she is today, was just wonderful. John Muggleton was a good Valmont, especially nailing some of the snappier zingers in Hampton’s wicked script, although occasionally there could have been more chemistry between him and his leading ladies. But that might have just been me. His best scenes were definitely squaring off against the Marquise, though his faltering villainy in the face of Madame de Tourvel’s goodness was also well done.
Heather Archibald as Madame de Tourvel was quite good, and actually felt a little underused somehow, for such a pivotal character (though she had some marvellous scenes against Muggleton, struggling to maintain her beliefs). Sara Duplancic was perfectly delightful as naive young Cecile, and Jenn Keay gave strong work as Mama de Volanges. There were other great supporting performances, chiefly Danny McLeod as Cecile’s dull-witted suitor Danceny, Susan Nugent as Emilie the bubbly courtesan, and Jean Claude Lize as Valmont’s sneaky servant Azolan. And I especially adored Sheila Shields as the imperious, doting Aunt Rosemonde, who shone in her limited time onstage. The whole production was great fun, and Geoff Gruson pulled together a solid show indeed…if I have one complaint, and I suppose maybe I do, it’s that the whole thing often felt rushed. Some scenes would rattle by in almost less time than it took to change the set, and some key moments didn’t quite get the attention they needed to sink in. Still, the style and the strong performances kept anything from getting stale, and overall this was a VERY fun night out. Kudos to the OLT for finishing the season with this brash, refreshing breath of morally bankrupt air.
Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)