Dooley's direction, Les Liaisons Dangereuses is a bold but not
entirely successful season opener. Christopher Hampton's stage adaptation
of the epistolary novel by Choderlos de Laclos was also the basis for
the Academy Award-winning 1998 movie Dangerous Liaisons, starring
Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer. Dooley has his work cut out for him:
He must make audiences forget the film long enough to concentrate on the
The Players break in a new home, a comfy, spacious theatre behind the Best Printing shop on Adeline Street in Berkeley, with Christopher Hampton's story of romantic double-crossing and lovelorn gamesmanship. Maybe it was the new surroundings, but on opening night the company was slow to warm to the material, and director Patrick Dooley's choreographed set changes needed speeding up. But by the second half his cast had found its collective voice, and did justice to the funny, linguistically gymnastic script. In the end, though it can't compete with the troupe's most memorable shows, it's a solid, rewarding production. Mary Eaton Fairfield, as the conniving Marquise de Merteuil, and Karen Goldstein, playing a whining, gullible marriage prospect, stand out from the rest of the cast; Michael Frassinelli's remarkable set, which includes a bed that slides downstage like a greased file-cabinet drawer, helps keep the frantic action watchably contained.
The Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil plan a pair of seductions; the seductions succeed; the seducers and seducees lose. There are some faux pas in this production: the women wear what look like pajama bottoms under their long dresses, making it seem like they're at an Enlightenment slumber party. But the Shotgun Players don't dodge the play's real challenge, which is to bring out the ambiguities in the characters' motives, so that we are never entirely sure what to believe. Making this possible are Dominic Riley as a Valmont who, disconcertingly, is more convincing as a lover than as a libertine, and Mary Eaton Fairfield's Merteuil, who really is, as she says, quick enough to improvise. Karen Goldstein is icing on the cake as one of Valmont's victims. The original musical score ranges from jazz to classical and provides an appropriately disconcerting backdrop.