Love, revenge & calculated cruelty in the sexy, darkly funny & tragic Les Liaisons Dangereuses

 

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Renee Cullen (Merteuil) & Chris Coculuzzi (Valmont) – photos by Dave Fitzpatrick

Amicus Productions opened its 2016-17 season with Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, directed by Victoria Shepherd, at the Todmorden Mills Papermill Theatre last night.

An edgy, erotic, sometimes chilling story of manipulation, desire and social gamesmanship, Amicus’s production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses plays out on a traditional proscenium stage, complete with drawn curtains, on a minimalist but gorgeous chess-inspired set (Alexis Chubb), with stunning period costume and wigs (Lindsay Forde), and sound design that includes original compositions (John Stuart Campbell, ft. Vivien Shepherd on vocals).

The Marquise de Merteuil (Renée Cullen) wants revenge against a former lover, and turns to another former lover, the notorious Vicomte de Valmont (Chris Coculuzzi), with a plan for him to seduce the man’s intended fiancée, the young Cécile Volange (Christina Leonard). In exchange, Merteuil promises Valmont a night of passion. Valmont has seduction plans of his own, however; he intends to bed the pious, loyal and married Présidente de Tourvel (Melanie Leon), a woman equally famous for her virtue as he is for his vice.

When his plans at his aunt’s home (Mme de Rosemond, played by Jenn Keay) are foiled by Cecile’s mother Mme de Volange (Kerrie Lamb), Valmont decides to go along with Merteuil’s plan, as the two also conspire to assist Cécile in her secret romance with the young Chevalier Danceny (Conor Ling). Meanwhile, Valmont has set his man servant Azolan (Andrew Batten) to spy on Tourvel, via his relationship with her maid; all this while paying regular visits to his favourite courtesan Émilie (Lindsay Forde). Constantly put off by Merteuil, Valmont goes to great lengths to procure payment for his services to her – and finds himself tangled in his own web.

Cullen and Coculuzzi are nicely matched as Merteuil and Valmont, who are both cunning as cats and master manipulators. Cullen’s Merteuil is coldly beautiful and ruthless; a woman tired of the second-class status afforded to her sex, she’s learned to take power by making pawns of those around her. Coculuzzi is diabolically charming and witty as Valmont; a sexy beast who’s gained notoriety as a callous rake (i.e., heartbreaking man whore), Valmont enjoys the game – but, unlike Merteuil, he’s more about the chase than the kill. As Tourvel, Leon brings a lovely sense of conflict and repressed lust; a gentle, pious soul, she is drawn to Valmont – and as much as she fights her feelings, she can’t help but succumb to the burgeoning passion between them. Some remarkable two-hander scenes, particularly in Act II, between Merteuil and Valmont (war) and Valmont and Tourvel (beyond my control).

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Chris Coculuzzi (Valmont) & Melanie Leon (Tourvel)

Leonard gives Cécile a great combination of wide-eyed innocence and insatiable lust; schooled by Valmont, she learns things that aren’t taught to nice young ladies. And Ling’s Danceny is adorably awkward and proper; on the brink of manhood, he is innocent and naïve – and he too learns a thing or two.

Excellent work from the supporting cast: Lamb’s prim and trusting Mme de Volange; Batten’s wry-witted and resourceful Azolan; Keay’s wise and kind Mme de Rosemonde, who’s onto more than you might think; Forde’s good times party girl Émilie; and Jeff Burke gives a nice turn as the Major-Domo, who’s seen so much and says so little.

Love, revenge and calculated cruelty in the sexy, darkly funny and tragic Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses continues at the Papermill Theatre until Nov 19; check here for ticket purchase/info or call 416-860-6176.

You can keep up with Amicus Productions on Twitter and Facebook.

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A charming, joyful celebration of life & love in Sabrina Fair

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Linus (Chris Coculuzzi), Sabrina (Amy LeBlanc) and David (Adam Brooks) are reunited in Sabrina Fair – photo by Dave Fitzpatrick

Amicus Productions gave the audience a magical evening of storytelling at Todmorden Mills Papermill Theatre last night with their production of Samuel Taylor’s Sabrina Fair, directed by Victoria Shepherd.

From its first moments, where ensemble actors Diana Franz and Meara Khanna open with a once-upon-a-time prologue, to the final discovery and acknowledgement of true feelings, Sabrina Fair is an engaging – and socially astute – piece of theatre. Not a mere 20th century rom com, Taylor’s play – and Amicus’s interpretation – is a combination of silly and sublime, as the story explores class and gender, and being true to oneself in the shifting social landscape of the early 1950s.

Shepherd has assembled a delightful cast for this theatrical adventure, with several stand-outs. Amy LeBlanc is a shimmering bundle of energy and wonder as Sabrina, a romantic realist, inspired by poetry and the excitement of the new and undiscovered – totally in love with the world even as she struggles to find her place in it. Chris Coculuzzi’s Linus is nicely layered; a man of panache and wit with killer business instincts – the tin man puppet master who’s forced to find his heart. Peter Bloch-Hansen is a treat as Mr. Larrabee, the somewhat befuddled family patriarch, whose bizarre hobby of attending funerals serves as a touchstone of certainty in a world he no longer understands. As his wife Maude, Sandra Cardinal is more self-aware than at first glance, with her sharp-witted – if not put upon – observations of society and family. And Heather Goodall, as Maude’s long-time chum Julia, hits just the right notes as the stylish, professional socialite, her self-possessed, well put-together exterior masking the vulnerability and loneliness beneath the surface. Nice work from Adam Brooks as Linus’s impetuous, boyish younger brother David; and Jeff Burke does a lovely job as Fairchild, Sabrina’s father and the family chauffeur, an extremely well-read man who’s full of surprises himself. All supported by a fine group of ensemble players.

With shouts to Alexis Chubb’s light, minimalist set design: the Larrabee’s garden patio, which is especially beautiful during the evening party scene, with its suspended multi-coloured lanterns and votive candles. And to Meredith Hubbard’s stunning costume design, which brings the palette and silhouette of this period – and this world – to life, especially with Sabrina’s and Julia’s frocks.

Amicus Productions’ Sabrina Fair is a charming, joyful celebration of life and love in a changing world.

Sabrina Fair continues its run at the Papermill Theatre until February 7, with matinée performances on February 1 and 7 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $22 regular and $20 seniors/students – available online or by phone at 416-860-6176.

Get yourself out for a wonderful time at the theatre. And, in case you were wondering – yes, this is the play that inspired the film Sabrina and the 1995 remake. In the meantime, check out the Amicus trailer:

And take a look at the interview with Amy LeBlanc.

Department of Corrections: Due to a last-minute casting change, one of the two prologue actors was incorrectly identified as Amaka Umeh and should have been noted as Diana Franz; this has been corrected.