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Royally screwed
French aristocrats make sinister bedfellows in 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses'
DANGEROUS: Ellie Pyle, left, David Bonham and Corinna Rezzelle

Sex. Seduction. Passion. Sex. Decadence. Lust. Sex.

Now that we’ve got your attention, let’s try to focus on Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the drama onstage this weekend at the Indigo Arts Center.

Although most of the actual intercourse in Christopher Hampton’s play is verbal, there’s no getting around the fact that the central characters are obsessed with it.

Ah, but half the fun, as they say, is getting there.

Based on the 1782 novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) concerns members of the pre–Revolution French aristocracy, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont. They’re both self–obsessed, devious and power–mad, and for them, sex is a weapon of domination and machination.

Merteuil and Valmont use people as pawns in their sinister games.

“It’s so appropriate for this time we’re living in now,” says Indigo director Jacqueline Gordon. “It’s really a play about obsession, possession and decadence. And now, even with our economy the way it is, people are still wanting possessions and not really learning the lesson of not ‘wanting things’ so much.”

Gordon believes there are parallels for everyone in Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

“That’s a lot of what we see in young people today, this very self–centered selfishness,” she says. “And adults too, not really thinking about others in the world. And how what we do affects everybody else.”

This story gives new meaning to the word “screwed.”

The dialogue is a bit florid – it does take place in 18th Century France, after all – but there’s no mistaking what the central characters are after.

“With this language, it’s the job of the actors to provide us with the intention,” Gordon explains. “And so if the actors are doing a really great job, then even a young audience will get it. They’ll get the themes of love, sacrifice and manipulation that they’ve all felt at some point in their life. The rich language will just take them on their journey, and further their knowledge that way.”

David Bonham, a SCAD junior, stars as Valmont, with Ellie Pyle, who’s the performing arts director for the City of Savannah, as Merteuil. These two snarky scoundrels were played by John Malkovich and Glenn Close in the 1988 film version, Dangerous Liaisons.

Corinna Rezzelle plays the virtuous (and therefore targeted) Madame de Tourvel; Madeline O’Hara is sweet Cecile de Volanges. Le Chevalier Danceny, a music teacher who gets caught unwittingly in the crossfire, is played by Cooper Westbrook.

Gordon teaches English at South Effingham High School, and also runs the school’s drama club.

“What’s really worked with this cast is that they’re a really good thinking cast – they come well–prepared and thoughtful as actors,” she explains. “They’re always thinking about why each character says what they say, and what’s the purpose in that language. And so for me as the director it’s been a treat, because usually I have to tell actors OK, I need you to move over here on this line.

“Instead, we’ve had ensemble meetings where we just sit and we talk about the characters, and character motivation, and ask ourselves questions.

“They’ll take those questions, think about them, and then come back to rehearsal next day with new movements, new thoughts, new actions. It’s an amazing group of people, and their chemistry is just stunning.”

Les Liaisons Dangereuses will be performed in “period–appropriate” costumes, but don’t expect the royal courts of Dangerous Liaisons, the stunning gowns or the elaborate powdered wigs. It just costs too much, Gordon says – and anyway, it’s all about the dialogue, and the actors, isn’t it?

Gordon herself wears many hats – she’s also a playwright and an actor.

“The creation of art is an absolute necessity in my soul,” she says. “I cannot not do theater.”

Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Where: Indigo Arts Center, 703D Louisville Road

When: At 8 p.m. June 24, 25, 26

Tickets: $10 (cash or check only)