Decadence and deception prove downright delicious in The Antaeus Theatre Company’s pitch-perfectly partner-cast Les Liaisons Dangeureuses, Christopher Hampton’s 1985 stage adaptation of the 18th-century French literary classic directed with supreme flair by Robin Larsen.

Moviegoers will recall Glenn Close and John Malkovich as lascivious conspirators Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont  (brought to lying, scheming, seductive Antaeus Company life by “Lovers” Elyse Mirto and Scott Ferrara and “Libertines” Reiko Aylesworth and Henri Lubatti), who have as the unsuspecting targets of their tangled intrigues two very different women, puritanical young wife Madame de Tourvel (Liza Seneca, Lindsay LaVanchy) and virginal teen temptress Cécile de Volanges (Chelsea Kurtz, Elizabeth Rian), neither of whose virtue may be intact all that much longer if Merteuil and Valmont have their way.

As for why the despicable duo have set out to despoil and deflower, it’s not just that as pampered, privileged pre-Revolution Parisians they’ve got far too much time on their hands, though indeed they do, and it’s not just that Merteuil has been romantically wronged and needs Valmont to help her wreak revenge, though that is equally true.

In a male-dominated world where “you [men] can ruin us whenever the fancy takes you,” Merteuil proclaims herself “born to dominate your sex and avenge my own.”

As for her fellow conspirator, no one has every accused Valmont of feminism. Instead, the Vicomte’s favorite word is “cruelty,” and in using his powers of seduction to destroy as many lives as his ice-cold heart desires, the twisted road he has left behind lays strewn with victims.

All of this adds up to as much soap as a year’s worth of The Young And The Restless, though told with considerably more sly humor and wit in a stage adaptation that manages to include virtually every perverse plot turn found in the 1782 Pierre Choderlos de Laclos epistolary novel that inspired it while fleshing out characters and deepening motivations to conversation-provoking effect.

Merteuil and Valmont’s supporting pawns include Cécile’s smitten music instructor Le Chevalier Danceny (Paul Culos, Josh Breslow), Cécile and Madame de Tourvel’s respective mothers Madame De Volanges (Bellina Logan, Dylan Jones) and Madame de Rosemonde (Anne McNaughton, Lorna Raver), curvaceous courtesan Emilie (Ellis Greer, Nadège August), and Valmont valet Azolan (Chad Borden, Aaron Lyons), pretty much none of whom remain entirely unscathed by Merteuil and Valmont’s cruel intentions and dirty rotten deeds.

Director Larsen has elicited one spectacular performance after another from a pair of remarkably distinct casts beginning with Mirto’s leggy Grace Kelly blonde vs. Aylesworth’s petite Elizabeth Taylor brunette and Ferrara’s sleek, runway-ready Valmont vs. Lubatti’s lupine rock star of a Vicomte, and the same holds true for just about every choice coupling.

Indeed, the decision to break from customary Antaeus Company practice and not mash-up casts twice a week makes sense here, so perfectly matched are “Lovers” (cast names listed first in this review) and “Libertines” (the second of each pair) that to mix them up would be criminal.

Another savvy choice is to have costume designer Jocelyn Hublau Parker outfit 18th-century characters in contemporary chic, thereby adding to Hampton’s scripts plus ça change relevance and appeal, and though quite a few partners share outfits, Mirto’s slinky black hostess gown pant set and Aylesworth’s clingy brocaded knee-length frock aid further in distinguishing the two actresses’ quite different Merteuils.

Yee Eun Nam’s occasionally animated, always striking projections help situate the action on her elegant, expansive set, side-stage “dumb shows” serving up between-scenes vignettes as actors reconfigure set pieces for the next bit of scripted drama.

Additional production design kudos are shared by Leigh Allen’s stunning, mood-enhancing lighting, Jeff Polunas’s dramatically pulsating sound design and original music, properties designer Erin Walley’s cello-and-bow and quill-and-inkwell and more, Jessica Mills’s character-appropriate hair designs, and Orlando de la Paz’s meticulous scenic painting, and just wait till sword meets sword for some authentic-looking dueling courtesy of violence director Ned Mochel with some graceful Heather Allyn-choreographed movement interspersed along the way.

Majordomos Paul Stanko and Turner Frankosky, Footmen Christopher Tilley and Matthew Lindberg, and assistant stage manager Jessica Osorio as Adèle do precisely what every good servant should do, stand erect, hold their tongues, and move the furniture when needed.

Chad West is production stage manager. Rachel Berney Needleman and Julie Lanctot are assistant directors. Christopher Breyer is dramaturg.

Additional program credits are shared by Adam Meyer (production manager and technical director), Rene Parras Jr. (assistant technical director), Kristin Weber (rehearsal stage manager), and Devon Swiger (sound design associate).

A centuries-old novel turned into a decades-young play provides sexual excitement aplenty on the Antaeus Theatre Company stage. Les Liaisons Dangeureuse’s blend of depravity, duplicity, and desire is easily the headiest mix in town.

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Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, 110 East Broadway, Glendale.

–Steven Stanley
October 26 & 27, 2017
Photos: Geoffrey Wade Photography

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