The French famously call an orgasm la petite mort, "the little death"—an elegant term to justify that postcoital sadness you may sometimes feel in your lover’s arms. Tristesse, however, seems inadequate to describe the morbid, alcohol-soaked depression into which the Vicomte de Valmont has fallen. As portrayed with pickled, bullish melancholy by Liev Schreiber, Valmont may take momentary joy from seducing virgins (Elena Kampouris) and corrupting pious country ladies (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), but that endorphin high crashes fast, leaving him gulping glasses of red and squinting sourly at his own debauched badinage.
This ghostly and sensuous revival of Christopher Hampton’s hit play (based on the 1782 epistolary novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos) arrives on Broadway via the Donmar Warehouse with a mostly British cast. The ferocious Janet McTeer has come over, too, as the scheming Marquise de Merteuil, more than a match for Valmont as they trade the hearts of naive men and women like playing cards. Schreiber’s impassive libertine pairs nicely with McTeer’s vengeful, wicked widow. Director Josie Rourke opts for a languid pace as these two dance a minuet of wasted love and cruelty, a game in which death is the prize and the winner feels cheated.
Booth Theatre (Broadway). By Christopher Hampton. Directed by Josie Rourke. With Janet McTeer, Liev Schreiber. Running time: 2hrs 45mins. One intermission. Through Jan 22. Click here for full ticket and venue information.
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