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Delicious Titillation

For more than 200 years, readers and audiences have followed the exploits and scheming of the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont with a combination of horror and titillation. How could two people, aristocratic Libertines from the 18th Century, be so vain and controlling? They use their social standings and mental fortitude to the disadvantage of any and all of the wholesome women and men around them. The whole thing is just so wicked tat it's delicious.

The latest theatrical incarnation of de Laclos' classic novel features A.C.T. Associate Artist Marco Barricelli as Alpha Male Valmont. Women know of his skirt-chasing reputation and yet are powerless to step out of his tractor beam. The only woman who's woman enough to control the Vicomte is the Marquise de Merteuil, who is expertly played by Lise Bruneau. She's perfectly cast as the sly, seductive force behind much of Valmont's womanizing.

The play is a flowing dramatization of the letters that are sent back and forth between Valmont and Merteuil. Without going too in-depth into the plot, which may easily be familiar already, the deal is that Valmont and Merteuil were once lovers. In order for Valmont to re-enter Merteuil's private chambers, he has to answer her challenge of deflowering the young Cecile de Volanges, played by a squeaky Elizabeth Raetz. Along the way, as sort of a side wager to himself, Valmont wants to get beneath the virtuous skirts of the lovely, very married Madame de Tourvel.

The production itself rolls along quite fluidly, following fantastic performances by Barricelli and Bruneau. The one flaw I saw in this version of the play is that the director, Giles Havergal, seems to ignore the seedier side of what these two are up to. He casts a remorseless eye upon the characters and never gives the audience breathing room to decide for themselves whether Valmont and Merteuil are truly bad people. Sure, on paper, what they're doing is hideous. But in this production, it's nearly impossible to dislike the two. Certain shadier plot points from the novel, and from past performances, are simply skipped over. However, this hardly ruins the play, as it's an overall entertaining performance of a theater classic.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Written by Choderlos de Laclos
Directed and Adapted by Giles Havergal
September 17th - October 12th at the <a href="/business.php?blId=835">A.C.T.</a>
At Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., SF, 415.749.2228