Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Theo Ubique Theatre Company, at the Athenaeum Theatre. The epistolary novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos is salacious, fun, and profoundly wise about sexual politics, as three victims are systematically duped by two aristocrats who measure love in terms of pain. It's easy to imagine tumbrels carting off bloodless seducer Vicomte de Valmont and his cousin, the equally unscrupulous Marquise de Merteuil, to well-earned deaths by guillotine during the French Revolution. But in 1782 they were at the top of their form, trading in emotional blackmail, gossip, and other calculated treacheries to outdo each other in the ruination of the innocent and stupid.
Christopher Hampton's stage adaptation is so delicious and the minefield plot seems so inevitable that good actors need only polish the perversity. (Even Ryan Phillippe couldn't ruin Cruel Intentions, the most recent of several film versions.) Fred Anzevino and Beverle Block's cunning ensemble could easily play the scintillating surface, simply giving Michele Bush's gorgeous costumes all the right attitudes. But fortunately the actors are dead serious. Playing Merteuil as a Dresden-china shepherdess with fangs, Jenni Fontana captures this wicked widow's icy opportunism. Her glacial malice is matched by Matt Yde's aggressively amoral Valmont. The prey he falls in love with is a married woman, played by the heartbreakingly hopeful Beata Swiderska. Paula Stevens and Julian Stetkevych give the other swindled lovers an irresistible ignorance, and Dolcye Johnson as a veteran coquette has a keen moment of truth.