Director Daniel Goldstein mixes period with contemporary razzle-dazzle. Erin Chainani’s costumes stuff pinstriped Karl Lagerfeld inspirations into high boots and bolster Vivienne Westwood with the 18th-century panniers that make the women look as if they were wearing tables under their skirts. It’s all very striking, as is the fusion score by Loren Toolajian, which mixes harpsichord with tootling jazz. But more crucial is the mix of surface grandeur, delicious depravity, and chilling amorality, all resulting in the just deserts that here flutter down in the form of incriminating letters dropped by a ghost.
The Huntington’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses begins and ends with ladies playing a desultory game of cards, but the real sharps are ex-lovers Merteuil and Valmont, whose edgy friendship takes the form of seducing and telling, either for revenge or for the titillating hell of it. Merteuil also has the feminist justification that she is, as she tells Valmont, “born to dominate your sex and avenge my own.” She wants her libertine pal to deflower 15-year-old Cécile Volanges (a Sandra Dee–ish Louisa Krause), a vacuous innocent who is engaged to a one-time lover of the Marquise. Valmont may have trouble working that in, however, as he’s busy trying to crack the virtue of the Présidente de Tourvel, a young married woman renowned for her piety. The partners in crime have, one presumes, been up to such intrigues for years, but the balance of power is upset when Merteuil perceives that Valmont has fallen for Tourvel. (Not that his passion keeps him from turning young Cécile into a trollop in Wonderland.) And the villains’ perfidy does not preclude linguistic volleying yummier than anything they might do in bed, were they to suit up for the sexual joist that is hard-bargained for but blows up at the negotiating table, with tragic results.
Heading up the Huntington cast is film and TV actor Michael T. Weiss, who follows his explosive turn in Burn This with a rakishly commanding Valmont who seems ready to pounce — if not on a woman, then on a nuance. Tasha Lawrence is a resplendent Merteuil who, though her inflections are somewhat lower-crust, conveys the turn of the Marquise’s heart from malignant delight to adamancy. And Yvonne Woods’s Tourvel communicates both the starch of her high lace collar and the heat beneath.
After time spent with the unsaintly manipulators of Sartre and Choderlos, any take on Little Women would radiate more innocence than The Exonerated — there’s nothing smarmy about Marmee. In Little Women — The Broadway Musical (at the Opera House through January 22), that bulwark of a matriarch is played by lush mezzo Maureen McGovern reprising her Tony-nominated turn in the 2005 Broadway production of this warbling take on Louisa May Alcott’s enduring novel about growing up March in mid-19th-century Concord. The other talent on view is Kate Fisher, flouncing up a melodramatic storm as aspiring pulp-fictionist Jo, whose “blood and guts” writings get her less far than her immortalizing account of the sisters March: pretty matron-in-the-making Meg, doomed sweetheart Beth, artsy peacock Amy, and her own swashbuckling tomboy self, all cleaving in genteel poverty to Marmee as absent dad comforts the souls of Union forces.