Les Liaisons Dangereuses opened at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge this week, with a twist. The all-male cast plays all the parts male and female, meaning that you'll see a scene in which a man playing a woman lies legs-wide on a couch about to be seduced by another man.
It's hard to tell if the all-male casting is political, we want you to see men cavorting together, or sociological, we want to challenge traditional gender assignments, or merely titillating, we want to infuse an old story with our unique flavor. Maybe its a combination of all of the above, but writer Christopher Hampton and director Lee Mikeska Gardner have left us with a production describing the superficiality, deceptions and sexual conquests of Paris in the 1780s that itself feels at times a bit superficial, like a party trick without much of a point.
In that way, maybe it's all very Cambridge. I've seen three plays at the Central Square Theater this season: Guards at the Taj, Women Who Mapped the Stars, and this one. Upon reflection, taken together they all feel like a walk down the political alleyways of today's progressive Left, shadowed by a woman swinging a didactic cudgel. Race, ethnicity, and most of all gender lurk behind every corner, with someone always waiting there to "improve" you in ways neither subtle nor terribly insightful should you fail to get the point. For a play that runs two and a half hours curtain up to curtain down, Liaisons offers its fair share of "improvement."
Nevertheless, there is an authenticity [there's that heinous word again] to theater that only conveys in the live performance. Our lives are otherwise saturated in screens, screens that amuse us and drug us just like Marx's religion did to his masses. I'm told that the John Malkovich/Glenn Close film of Liaisons is fabulous, but that's on a screen, and besides which, I don't like either of them as actors. Perhaps my cynicism shouldn't dissuade me from the two of them playing Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' two main protagonists: a male Vicomte de Valmont and a female Marquise de Merteuil. It might distract me less than the stage version, revealing in even starker contrast the pure human treachery going on before my eyes.