Theatre Department prepares for a new play about sex and revenge in 18th century France

Maddy Mesa

Revenge, deceit and sex. How does anyone prepare for something like that?

That’s what FAU students in the Theatre and Dance Department are doing as they get ready for their new play, Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) by Christopher Hampton, where the lavish world of 18th century France is brought to life on stage.

Not an easy feat considering that everything in 1780 France is drastically different from 2012 Boca Raton. From the fashion to the language, FAU theater students must learn how to walk the walk and talk the talk of the period. All the while, they have to bring to life the story of the two main characters, Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil and Vicomte Sébastien de Valmont, and their outlandish, deviant lifestyle.

With two days to go before opening night, cast and crew gathered for their rehearsal in the Studio 1 Theatre on the Boca campus. The mood was light as actors strode about the stage practicing their lines. The stage, covered in bed sheets, was very plain in contrast with the elaborate costumes of petticoats and breeches, powdered wigs and the makeup the actors will be wearing.

The students have been preparing for this play for seven weeks, and they’re almost ready to unveil their masterpiece. But before they do, there is still a lot of grunt work to do at rehearsals. There are set pieces to place, entrances to be queued, and dialogue to be rehearsed between characters, all of which are subject to change anytime during a run-through. A simple five minute scene could be worked and reworked for over twenty minutes until both actors and the director, Jean-Louis Baldet, feel it has the right, clean flow.


Peek into the Plot:
Merteuil and Valmont are friends, but Valmont wants to become more intimate with the lovely Merteuil. So he strikes up a deal with her. If Valmont can persuade Madame de Tourvel to abandon her morals and sleep with him, then Merteuil will offer Valmont “a reward.” Meanwhile Merteuil’s lover, Comte de Gercourt, has left her for the innocent Cécile de Volanges. She asks Valmont to help her seek revenge by sleeping with Cécile and forever ruining her good name.


Up for a challenge:
From the set to the dialogue, Les Liaisons Dangereuses is far from the contemporary type plays the theatre department has been putting on this year. Here are the last five plays they’ve put on.

Wonder of the World by David, by Lindsay-Abaire: Unhappy Cass attempts to leave behind her deadly dull life and husband by fleeing to Niagara Falls. There she becomes entangled with various narcotics.

Anton in Show Business, by Jane Martin: A comedy about what goes on behind the stage in a world of theatre. The play tells the story of three struggling actresses and an ill-fated production of Anton Chekhov’s The Three Sisters in San Antonio, Texas.

Duck Hunter Shoots Angel, by Mitch Albom: A comedy about two Alabama duck-hunting brothers who think they accidentally shot down an angel.

Widows by Ariel Dorfman: Women of a small village in South America await the return of their husbands, sons and fathers from war while tension with local police produces startling results.

Cloud 9 by Caryl Churchill: The show’s two acts are set years apart. The first act parodies the conventional comedy genre and satirizes Victorian society and colonialism, while the second act  shows what could happen when the restrictions of both the genre of comedy and Victorian ideology are loosened in the more permissive 1970s.


Learning the lingo:
Instead of speaking modern day English, actors speak with an air of aristocracy, much more sophisticated than how the average people communicate today.

“It’s definitely really different especially because a lot of what we stick in is modern drama,” junior theatre major Shannon Ouellette said, who plays Madame de Volanges, Cécile’s mother. “The language is very heightened and it takes some getting used to that.”

In one scene of the play, Valmont says how much he admires his friend, Merteuil, for her strength. She replies, “Well, I had no choice, did I? I’m a woman. Women are obliged to be far more skillful than men. You can ruin our reputation and our life with a few well-chosen words. So, of course, I had to invent, not only myself, but ways of escape no one has ever thought of before. And I’ve succeeded because I’ve always known I was born to dominate your sex and avenge my own.”

Books and movies:
Students had to do their fair share of research in order to engross themselves into the culture and class of the setting.

“I like to do a lot of historical research,”  David Meldman said, a senior and acting major, who plays Valmont’s man servant Azolan. “I looked into the time period that it’s set in, and what conditions were like for the people that served the nobility.”

He went on: “I’m also in charge of rehearsing the fight sequence, so I had to brush up on specific styles of fencing from the era.”

The cast members wasted no time in starting to prepare for their roles. Rehearsals for Les Liaisons Dangereuses started the Monday after their last play, The Wonder of the World, finished back in February. Some actors, like Taylor Darden who plays Valmont, and Ryan O’shea who plays Madame de Tourvel, were preparing and studying their roles before rehearsals began by watching the movie (yes, there is a movie of the play).

The actors

How difficult is it to wear your costumes?

“We have to wear these big petticoats to prepare us so we know how to move with them because it’s basically like driving a boat.”
– Shannon Ouellett (Madame de Volanges), theatre major, junior

How would you describe the characters in the play?

“They’re fabulous wealthy people, who quite frankly don’t have enough to do, and they have so much time on their hands that the two main characters spend their time seeing how they can sleep with as many people as possible and use sex as tool for revenge.”
– Taylor Darden (Vicomte de Valmont), theatre major, grad student

How does it feel to not have the role as a silent servant/stagehand in the play?

“It’s really interesting to be on stage and not speak anything at all, but it’s also very freeing at the same time. I just developed [the scenes] with improvisation and my moments to try to develop a good solid story,”
– Valentina Villamizar (servant/stagehand), theatre major, senior

How do you think people and students will react to the show?

“I hope they will enjoy it. It’s a play that talks about sex, but not in a pornographic way. I hope that people will be turned on and provoked by it, to think about gender relations, gender dynamics, sex as a weapon –– which is what the whole play is about.”
– David Meldman (Azolan), acting major, senior

What do you like about playing a servant/stagehand who, in between scenes, has his minor romantic story?

“I feel like it’s going to be fun because, even though I’m just moving furniture, we have a cute little story. With all the dark humor going on it kind of adds a little lightness to the show.”
– Eduardo Rivera (servant/stagehand), theatre major, freshman

The details

WHEN: April 13, 14, 20 and 21 at 7 p.m. and April 15, 21 and 22 at 1 p.m

WHERE: Studio 1 Theatre (Dorothy F. Schmidt Performing Arts Center)

HOW MUCH: $20 for singles, $16 for faculty, staff and alumni, $12 for students and $14 for a group of fifteen or more.

CONTACT: 1-800-564-9539 for tickets and more information or go to www.fauevents.com.