(Host) A new Chittenden County theater company is hoping that intrigue, seduction and scandalous behavior will rekindle interest from area theater-goers.
VPR’s Neal Charnoff goes “Backstage” with the Equinox Theater Company’s production of “Dangerous Liaisons.”
(Charnoff) Christopher Hampton’s Dangerous Liaisons is a peek behind the curtain of pre-French Revolution society.
Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil are two virtuosos of deceit and seduction. For these two former lovers, sexual conquest is just a game. In this early scene, they strike a bargain: if Valmont can seduce a woman famous for her virtue, he will win the right to once again share Merteuil’s bed. He tells her the plan for his conquest.
(Valmont) “Well you see this trip to visit my more or less immortal aunt, it’s the first step to what might be my most ambitious plan to date.” (Merteuil) “Tell me about it.”
(Valmont) “My aunt is not alone at the moment, she has a young friend visiting her. Madame de Tourvel.”
(Valmont) “She is my plan.”
(Merteuil) “You can’t mean it.”
(Valmont) “Why not? To seduce a woman famous for her strict morals, religious fervor, the happiness of her marriage? What could possibly be more prestigious?”
(Merteuil) “I think there’s something degrading about having a husband for a rival. It’s humiliating if you fail, and commonplace if you succeed.”
(Charnoff) Valmont uses all his skill and charm to win over Madame de Tourvel. To his surprise, not only does she spurn his advances, but he actually falls in love with her.
Valmont is played by Paul Ugalde of South Burlington. Ugalde says that thematically, most of the plays he’s performed in, including Dangerous Liaisons, can be boiled down to one imperative.
(Ugalde) “Human characters in pursuit of love. Where is the love? It’s looking for a relationship, for a meaning to your life, which usually involves connecting with another human being. And even in a play where they are seemingly scheming with each other, they’re still in pursuit of those things that make us feel whole.”
(Charnoff) Valmont shares the bulk of the play’s scheming with Marquise de Merteuil, played by Wendy Huff of Williston. Huff says that the key to playing Merteuil is to look not for the cruelty in her, but the humanity.
Here, Merteuil is explaining how she became the woman she is, in a monologue designed to make male audience members squirm.
(Merteuil) “We can’t even be rid of you when we want to. We are forced to unstitch, painstakingly, what you would just cut through. We must either find some way of making you want to leave us, so you’d be too guilty to harm us, or find a reliable means of blackmail. Otherwise, you can ruin our reputation and our life with a few well-chosen words. So yes, I was forced to invent not only myself, but ways of escape that no one had ever thought of, because I had to be quick enough on my feet to improvise. And I’d succeeded because I always knew I was born to dominate your sex, and avenge my own.”
(Charnoff) Huff says that although Valmont might be considered the main character, the play is really about the women.
(Huff) “If you look at every single woman in the cast, there are different faces of what a woman had to do to survive at that point in history. And that is fascinating to me because women are still looking for their role, we’re still defining how do we fit within a patriarchal society, which was the template that’s been in place for a thousand-plus years. We’ve been playing this game.”
(Charnoff) Dangerous Liaisons is being directed by Jana Beagley of South Burlington. She says that the Equinox Theater Company was formed in part to re-invigorate community theater. According to Beagley, a reliance on “safe” material has resulted in multiple productions of the same catalog of plays, sometimes in the same season.
The company has kept costs down, relying on borrowed period costumes and donated rehearsal space. The Shelburne Town Hall – with its large windows and eight chandeliers – itself becomes a character in the play, and period music is added for flavor.
Jana Beagley is hoping the provocative nature of Dangerous Liaisons will spice up the local theater-going experience.
(Beagley) “We have an incredible cast, sumptuous costumes, a vicious duel and enough scandal to bust a bodice. I mean what more could you ask for?”
(Charnoff) For VPR Backstage I’m Neal Charnoff.
Dangerous Liaisons runs through April 2 at the Shelburne Town Hall. Tickets are available through the Flynn Theater box office.