A new mounting of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” starring Janet McTeer and Liev Schreiber opened on Broadway on October 30. Adapted from a 1782 French epistolary novel, the show follows former lovers the Marquise de Merteuil (McTeer) and the Vicomte de Valmont (Schreiber) as they allure and taunt each other in games of seduction, sex, betrayal, and revenge. Although audience members might not be familiar with the stage play, playwright Christopher Hampton adapted the same source material for the Oscar-winning film “Dangerous Liaisons” starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Critical response to the revival has been considerably divided. Linda Winer (Newsday) praises the “still-shocking” play for its “haunting set” and “marvelous cast,” with raves for McTeer, who delivers a “terrifically layered” performance, and Schreiber, who becomes “increasingly irresistible… bemused, playful, almost touching in his insolent confidence.” Jesse Green (Vulture) also lauds both the physical production and the performances, but ultimately admits the revival is “a triumph of the visual over the dramatic… like a racecar running on half an engine.”
Other critics were less complimentary. Ben Brantley (New York Times) found both McTeer and Schreiber uneven and trapped in a “state of unnatural captivity,” equating their high-octane performances to a bull in a china shop, although he does commend the production’s “expert lighting” and “ravishing period garb.” Harsher yet, Jeremy Gerard (Deadline) deems the show an “oddly off-putting mix of period melodrama and contemporary finger-wagging,” disliking Josie Rourke’s direction, and pegging McTeer as “over-emphasized” and Schreiber as sometimes “cringe-inducingly unconvincing.” Gerard does compliment the “sometimes visually arresting” design, though, and singles out Birgitte Hjort Sørensen’s performance as “persuasive and heartbreaking.”
In light of the reactions of critics, how might “Liaisons” make out at the Tony Awards?
Previous productions of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” have performed particularly well at the Tonys. The original production in 1987 received eight nominations, including Best Play, Best Actor (Alan Rickman), and Best Actress (Lindsay Duncan), although it did not take home any trophies. The more recent revival in 2008 received five nominations, including Best Revival and Best Actor (Ben Daniels), and won the award for Best Costume Design (Katrina Lindsay).
This revival seems poised to reap a decent number of nominations, too. McTeer and Schreiber both appear likely to reap bids in Best Actress and Best Actor, respectively, in part because of their reputations as well-respected theater veterans. McTeer already has a Tony Award from the Best Actress category for her performance in “A Doll’s House” in 1997, as well another nomination from 2009 for “Mary Stuart.” Schreiber has a similar Tony pedigree, with a Tony Award win in 2005 for a revival of “Glengarry Glen Ross,” as well as two other nominations (“Talk Radio” , “A View from the Bridge” ).
Although she’s not yet a marquee name, Sørensen also looks like a good bet for a nomination in Best Featured Actress: In recent years, the category has been extremely welcoming to Broadway newcomers (Condola Rashād, “Stick Fly” ; Carrie Coon, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” ; Sophie Okonedo, “A Raisin in the Sun” ) and with the excellent reviews she received, she could easily nab a nomination.
In the design categories, Tony-winner Mark Henderson (“The History Boys”) will most likely earn a nomination for his much-lauded lighting design. Tom Scutt, a Tony nominee last year for “King Charles III,” will probably be nominated again for costume design, and his scenic design might earn a bid, too.
There are two key categories “Liaisons” could very well miss out on: Best Direction and Best Revival. Although Rourke has the prestigious title of director for London’s Donmar Warehouse, her vision for this production divided critics and audiences, which could cost her a first-ever Tony nomination. As for the top honor, there are at least six revivals still to open this season, and with only four slots to fill the lukewarm response to “Liaisons” may preclude it from contention.