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Center Stage’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses flirts with deception

“Love is something you use, not something you fall into.” This is the sentiment that drives “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” a play that, put most simply, tells a tale of deceit and cunning seduction. The play, which opened at Baltimore’s Center Stage in Mount Vernon on Friday Dec. 2, brings together an expert cast, stunning costumes and performances that are as smart as they are sexy.

Set in elegant salons and bedrooms in France just before the Revolution, the play opens with a seemingly harmless card game between La Marquise de Merteil (Suzzane Douglas) and Madame de Volanges (Carine Montbertrand). For such a timid opening, the plot almost instantly delves into a fast-paced competition of seduction and betrayal between La Marquise and Le Vicomte de Valmont (Brent Harris).

La Marquise challenges Le Vicomte to sleep with her former lover’s bride-to-be and, immediately, the game begins. Each of them is out to prove that they are better at the game of seduction, bragging that they are better at dishing out unrequited love than the other. Furthermore, the brutal couple are met with characters that are so pitifully ignorant (usually annoyingly so) that it is even difficult to feel bad for them.

A witty dialogue mirrors the dance of deception between La Marquise and Le Vicomte and breaks some of the intensity of the plot. While audience members are sure to be on the edge of their seats throughout the show, they can also rely on the characters’ quick-witted retorts to relieve some of the stress created by the scenes.

Additionally, this show works so well due to the on-stage chemistry between Douglas and Harris. The pair creates a balance between their characters making them equally easy to hate or to adore. This is where the effectiveness of the dynamic lies: while they are seducing their respective partners, they seduce the audience as well.

In addition to superb acting and an enthralling story, the design aspects of the show are stunning. Elegant costumes are paired with beautiful, yet minimal set design pieces. It is even difficult to miss the importance of the lighting and scene changes. It is clear that every aspect of the show was well thought out and executed perfectly.

Though it takes place in a time so far removed from today, it is a story that remains relevant. Even today, it is interesting, funny and intelligent. Running until Dec. 23, “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” will not disappoint.