According to some critics, the 18th century novelist and army general Pierre Choderlos de Laclos wrote the novel Dangerous Liaisons to expose the perversions of the French ruling class, which would shortly get their comeuppance in the Revolution. In the novel, which unfolds in a series of letters, the ex-lovers and combatants the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont plot their seductions like military campaigns.
The novel has been filmed many, many times. We are most familiar with the sumptuous Stephen Frears adaptation based on the play by Christopher Hampton. Glenn Close and John Malkovich are the leads, and their pawns are the radiant Michelle Pfeiffer as Madame de Tourvel, Uma Thurman as convent-fresh Cecile, and Keanu Reeves as the Chevalier Danceny. The current Dr. Who Peter Capaldi is Valmont’s valet. This production revels in its theatrical roots: every glance is a coded message, and the characters wear their baroque fashions like armor. It is so much fun, no one asks aloud what those women see in Malkovich.
The more understated Milos Forman version had the misfortune of coming out a year later. Annette Bening and Colin Firth conduct themselves with a more subtle malice, but the production design is less spectacular. Screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere made changes to the plot so the outcome is somewhat kinder.
Then there is the modern teen version in which rich kids Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Philippe plot against Reese Witherspoon. None of these three versions follow the ending of the Choderlos de Laclos novel in which the Marquise, her reputation ruined by the publication of her letters, flees to the country, contracts smallpox and dies. Which would be worse for her than being booed at the opera, no?
The Tanghalang Pilipino production which goes onstage weekends at the CCP Little Theatre is called Juego de Peligro. Translated from the Hampton play by Elmer Gatchalian and directed by Tuxqs Rutaquio, it is set in late 19th century Manila. The schemers are now Margarita (Shamaine Buencamino) and Vicente (Arnold Reyes), two upper-class Spaniards corrupting the indios, who include a wonderful LJ Reyes as the virtuous married woman, and Vin Abrenica as Keanu.
The historical context creates difficulties, beginning with the language: it is rather long-winded and the leads speak it in the fraile-accented Tagalog of old movies: “Nguni’t subali’t datapwa’t an mana indio, que barbaridad.” And then the costumes: we are used to seeing Dangerous Liaisons with low necklines and elevating corsets for the women’s costumes and tight pants for the men’s. The setting being pre-Revolution Manila, there are no boobs or quads, though there are butts, all male, for which we are not complaining, and Vin Abrenica’s abs, which should get separate billing.
Drogon: This is not G-rated!
Still, bringing colonialism and class struggle into a 233-year-old novel is an interesting choice, and Margarita casts herself as a proto-feminist who refuses to be controlled by the patriarchy. Students being introduced to Choderlos de Laclos may find themselves hooked.
Juego de Peligro runs until March 8 at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, Cultural Center of the Philippines. Tickets: Call 8321125 loc. 1620 and 1621, 0905-2544930, 0921-8204155; TicketWorld 8919999, ticketworld.com.ph.