August 17—September 23
Directed by Frédérique Michel
Production Design by Charles A. Duncombe
Cast: Troy Dunn, David E. Frank, Sharon Gardner, Mariko Oka
BACKSTAGE – CRITIC’S PICK!
August 22, 2007
By Hoyt Hilsman
Frederíque Michel’s deft direction and outstanding performances by Troy Dunn and Sharon Gardner create a vivid, evocative production of German playwright Heiner Müller’s free adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The themes of lust, seduction, and intrigue are familiar from the various renditions of the novel since its publication in 1782. But Müller’s adaptation emphasizes the exquisite tension between the divine and the profane, as the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil act out their perverse passions in a choreographed dialogue about God and the flesh. Exquisitely written, the play is an extended tract, a debate about the nature of sexuality and spirituality, but enacted in the form of several role-playing seductions. Müller twists the intellectual screws again and again as Valmont and Merteuil exchange gender roles, further jumbling the perspectives of seducer and seduced. In the hands of a less gifted company, this material could easily become stiff and wordy. But Dunn and Gardner seem to have marinated themselves in not only the emotional subtext of each moment but also the darting, zinging intellectual combat that drives the play. Gardner is a stunningly convincing actor, playing the first section of the play in a wheelchair with absolute conviction, then rising miraculously to perform limber feats — physical and intellectual. She plays a perfect counterpoint to Valmont in her piercing yet fatally flawed honesty. Dunn is terrific, switching from the predatory seducer to the sympathetic seduced, all the while relentlessly exploring the spiritual rationale for his tragic existence. Müller’s words trip lightly from Dunn’s lips, but their philosophical weight sends lightning flashes out into the universe. In the end, Dunn and Gardner summon a transcendent emotional power that lingers long past the curtain. David E. Frank and Mariko Oka give solid performances in secondary roles. Michel is the beating theatrical heart of this piece, as she drenches the play with emotional subtext and intellectual power. Her work is strong, important, and critically vital in the contemporary world. And she delivers Müller’s disturbing, universal vision with beauty and grace.
LA WEEKLY – GO!
QUARTET by Heiner Müller
Monday, August 20, 2007
By Steven Leigh Morris
Like English playwright Christopher Hampton, the late German poet and überexperimenter in theatrical forms, Heiner Müller, also had a go at adapting Choderlos de Laclos’ 18th-century novel Les Liasons Dangereusesfor the stage. Whereas Hampton transformed the novel’s series of correspondences into a straightforward erotic melodrama about libertines and innocents, Müller’s Quartet (here in a translation by Marc Von Henning) turned the letters into a far more interesting, linguistically dense and poetical sequence of arias and dialogues spoken by two characters, a man and a woman named Valmont and Merteuil (Troy Dunn and Sharon Gardner). Quartet strongly suggests that the pair are acting out a jealousy duet that involves sexually ensnaring a virgin from a convent, while corrupting the president’s femme — leaving girl and femme ruined — just for the puppeteers’ fun, and boredom, and insecurity.
What’s to be insecure about? Why, aging and death of course, underscoring the frailty and presumptuousness of human power in general, and of sexual power in particular. What good is power if it lasts no longer than the blink of an eye? Valmont and Merteuil’s bitter game is a form of revenge against God for their own mortality, a petty swipe of nihilism motivated by reminders of their own physical decay. Director Frederique Michel has the pair switching roles, which further dramatizes the gamesmanship. She also adds two “Players” (David E. Frank and Mariko Oka); he makes droll remarks behind a golden mask while she enacts the role of the virgin.
Set against the sky-blue backdrop of Charles A. Duncombe’s elegant production design, which also includes a pair of suspended chandeliers and a centerpiece crucifix, the spectacle is as beautiful to watch as it is to hear, thanks in large part to the eloquent and intense performances that, even at fever pitch, sustain a quiet dignity. Also, Michel’s overlay of Kabuki formalization helps elevate the lusty melodrama from a poem about the meaning of sex to one about the meaning of life
LA Times – Reccomended
Gender-bending mind games
Friday, August 24, 2007
By F. Kathleen Foley
Director Frédérique Michel and production designer Charles A. Duncombe take on the obscurities of the late German playwright Heiner Müller in “Quartet,” Müller’s radically deconstructed adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” now at City Garage.
Michel and Duncombe have traversed Müller terrain before, most notably in their brilliant 2000 production of “MedeaText: Los Angeles/Despoiled Shore,” Müller’s cryptic take on the Medea legend.
Although Marc von Henning’s translation maintains plenty of epigrammatic zip, “Quartet” is far more austere and spare than “MedeaText.” The play opens with a startling visual — a naked woman crucified on a towering cross. This “Player” (Mariko Oka) features prominently in the fantasies of the carnally voracious Vicomte de Valmont (Troy Dunn) and his partner in lubricity, the Marquise de Merteuil (Sharon Gardner).
Attended by another Servant/Player (David E. Frank), Valmont and de Merteuil engage in gender-bending games of a progressively cruel ilk. There is nudity, yes, and even simulated sex, but don’t expect titillation from these concupiscent charades. Müller seldom mentions sex without a graphic reference to death. These pre-Revolutionary French aristocrats, so deftly portrayed by Dunn and Gardner, are keenly aware of the impending deluge that will soon land them in the tumbrels. Until that final deliquescence, they will continue to “rub their hides” together — soullessly and tragically.
Müller intended “Quartet” as a study on terrorism, but in Michel’s take, the emphasis is pointedly feminist, as it was in “MedeaText.” Under his sphinx-like inscrutability, Müller evinces a surprising empathy for his objectified female characters, as does Michel in her sympathetic enigmatic staging.
LA WEEKLY – Theatre Feature
Trying and Quartet look at the costs and benefits of growing old
By Steven Leigh Morris
Wednesday, August 29, 2007 – 6:00 pm
[This article has been edited for length. Please click here for the full text.
Excuse me for remounting the old “L.A. is a theater town — really!” warhorse that observers who’ve been here for a decade or two, including me, drag out of the stable every year or two, but the local stage is firing on all cylinders this month — really! From the exquisite psychological realism in John Patrick Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea (speaking of warhorses) at the tiny Elephant Theatre Company, and the sassy romantic comedy of Charles Mee’s Limonade Tous les Jours, just closed at 2100 Square Feet but reopening somewhere else shortly, to the skillful jocularity of Independent Shakespeare Company’s open-air offerings by the Bard in Barnsdall Park, to the finely tuned machinery of farce in Daniel Goldfarb’s Modern Orthodox at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills, to the crowd-pleasing Orwellian spectacle laced into Wicked at the Pantages, this is all happening pre-season, which is very unusual. New York and Britain haven’t even rolled in their heavy artillery yet: The Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre of Scotland are packing their suitcases for visits to UCLA Live, and the Wooster Group’s Hamlet is slated for REDCAT early next year.
Add to the evidence another pair of glorious productions — one at Burbank’s midsize Colony Theatre and the other over at Santa Monica’s City Garage — that both grapple in contrary ways with the plight of aging.
… [snip] …
Christopher Hampton wasn’t the only one to adapt Choderlos de Laclos’ 18th-century novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses— written as a series of letters — into a play. The late German poet-playwright Heiner Müller composed a “text” named Quartet, which has been translated by Marc Von Henning in City Garage’s gorgeous production, directed by Frédérique Michel.
It’s very German. Where Trying is largely punctuated by repartee, Quartet consists of massive blocks of words, making it something of a literary cliff for audiences to scale. Aging former lovers Valmont and Merteuil (roles shared by Troy Dunn and Sharon Gardner) appear in whiteface and Josephine Poinsot’s lavish, baroque costumes. Through their torrents of language, they play-act multiple parts in a jealousy duet — challenges and counterchallenges for Valmont to de-virginize a Catholic novice (Mariko Oka) and corrupt the “femme de presidente” — all motivated by Merteuil’s desire to marry, and the couple’s mutually held fears of aging and insignificance. (The play is marbled with references to death and physical decay.)
With a large wooden crucifix planted center stage, against which Oka is suspended naked at the play’s opening, this is clearly a pitched battle between mortals and God, between impotence and immortality. Of course the mortals realize they’re on the losing end, cemetery-bound, and this is what motivates their nihilistic swipes at God and determination to push through the constraints of religious and social decorum through such games as sodomizing innocent little girls and gleefully destroying the reputations of lonely women succumbing to sexual temptation. This, and the masks they don while carrying out their brutalities, makes for a perfectly reasonable explanation for why pornography is a multibillion-dollar industry.
Michel stages all of this as a kind of dance with moments of faux-Kabuki formality, performed with strikingly lucid restraint and intelligence by Dunn and Gardner. Oka beautifully plays the added character of “Player,” along with David E. Frank, who, behind a golden mask, makes droll comments on the action.
The combination of taut choreography and freewheeling role playing, in conjunction with a pair of chandeliers suspended against the sky-blue backdrop of Charles A. Duncombe’s set and lighting design, makes for a very elegant and thoughtfully textured event.