Les Liaisons Dangereuses
While it’s nice to have John Malkovich, who co-founded Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 1976 before achieving fame as a film actor, take such an active role in New York theater this summer, his projects have been strange and underwhelming.
A few weeks ago, he played Casanova in “The Giacomo Variations,” a stupefying musical at City Center that awkwardly inserted Mozart arias into a story about the 18th century lothario.
Now Malkovich is back as the director of a puzzling French-language production of Christopher Hampton’s smart, sexy and suspenseful period drama “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” which is receiving a weeklong run as part of Lincoln Center Festival.
If you recall, Malkovich starred in the 1988 film version, which was titled “Dangerous Liaisons,” with Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Based on a French epistolary novel, “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” follows the vicious games played by the Vicomte de Valmot and Marquise de Merteuil in targeting innocent prey for sexual exploitation.
In Malkovich’s stripped-down production, the young actors, who wear half-finished costumes consisting of period and contemporary garments, sit around a bare stage for the entirety of the play, even in scenes where their characters are not present. Seeing as the play revolves around secrets and suspense, this choice makes absolutely no sense.
Malkovich has also robbed the play of virtually all its theatricality, presenting it as if it were an informal industry reading. The actors follow suit, providing restrained performances that manage to turn Hampton’s exciting drama into a flat bore.
“Les Liaisons Dangereuses” plays at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College through Sunday. 524 W. 59th St., 212-721-6500, lincolncenterfestival.org.