The Associated Press raved, the Hollywood Reporter was mixed and Ben Brantley at the Times panned while questioning whether Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses holds up in a new Broadway revival, particularly with a scene that blends rape and seduction.
The Donmar Warehouse production, starring Liev Schreiber and Janet McTeer, has been building at the box office and opening night notices offer ad agency Serino/Coyne plenty of quotes. The A.P.’s Mark Kennedy writes that “this revival simply crackles as a witty comedy descends into horrific satire.” David Cote of Time Out New York calls it “ghostly and sensuous.” David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter praises Josie Rourke’s direction as “evocative” as the revival “provides a compelling portrait of a dissolute aristocracy on the brink of devouring itself.”
But to Rooney, Schreiber is “ill-suited for the part of the ‘conspicuously charming’ Vicomte de Valmont” and his “masculine intensity reads all wrong as Valmont, bringing brusque arrogance in place of preening vanity and brawny swagger in place of wily seductiveness.” Jeremy Gerard in Deadline observes that “neither the bon mot nor the catty snipe roll trippingly off his tongue, and his protestations of life-changing ardor for [love interest] Turves are cringe-inducingly unconvincing.” Gerard argues that Schreiber is more believable when his character has one hand over a virginal teenager’s mouth “while shoving the other up her sleeping gown.”
Brantley described fitful and uneasy laughter in the audience during that scene, which “begins as rape and ends with the young woman’s enthusiastic acceptance of erotic pleasure.” While comparing the performances of Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman in the original 1987 Broadway production to “sleek, sexy foxes in a henhouse,” McTeer and Schreiber “come across as magnificent bulls who have strayed into a Limoges china shop.” He writes that the leads come into their own after their characters destroy themselves and others, but the “visceral immediacy of their performances here seems wrenchingly out of context and reveals the ornamental thinness of the surrounding play.”
Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune and Peter Marks in the Washington Post also found the production lacking. Whereas Linda Winer in Newsday praised Schreiber and McTeer for “daring portrayals in a still-shocking play.” Hard to believe they all saw the same show.
With Arielle Tepper Madover as lead producer, Les Liaisons Dangereuses is scheduled to run through Jan. 22 at the Booth Theatre.