“It’s a truly remarkable, contemporary 18th-century piece of writing,” Schreiber told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s no coincidence that it was a best-seller back then.”
Adapted from Choderlos de Laclos‘ 1782 epistolary novel, Christopher Hampton’s 1985 drama follows La Marquise de Merteuil (McTeer) and Le Vicomte de Valmont (Schreiber), two privileged, dueling rivals whose cruel games of sexual conquest have fatal consequences. The roles originally were played onstage by Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan, and onscreen by John Malkovich and Glenn Close in a 1988 feature. Josie Rourke’s hit London production transfers to Broadway in the heat of America’s presidential election season — and with immediate relevance.
“Thirty years ago, in the ‘80s, it seemed to be about the ‘me’ generation and people being entitled. Now, there’s a sinister edge and it’s about the one-percent — how heartless they are, and how people who are privileged and wealthy have the power to behave badly, and often will,” explained the playwright. “It seems to chime with what’s happening at the moment.
“In fact, we were thinking about adding in a few lines that would point the audience toward Donald Trump,” he continued. For example, “we were thinking of the beginning scene, where [Merteuil] is describing Valmont before he arrives. She could’ve described him in a slightly different way that would’ve made the audience think of someone in particular.”
That conversation was triggered by Trump’s hot-mic comments about women, which made headlines just as the production began previews. “This play has always been about sexual politics, and [preview] audiences were massively seized by what was going on in the present moment,” said director Rourke. McTeer (wearing J. Mendel) added of the connection, “Women at that time were trying to find power in a man’s world — you can think you have it, and then somebody makes one comment, and then you realize you really don’t.”
Ultimately, “we decided against it because it seemed like a cheap shot, and we thought we’d let the parallels speak for themselves,” said Hampton. Echoed McTeer, “Once we [in the cast] were all aware of it, people in the audience were beginning to see. I think they’re catching on.“
Naomi Watts, Pierce Brosnan, F. Murray Abraham, Cherry Jones, Cynthia Erivo, Alan Cumming, Bernadette Peters, Megan Hilty, John Varvatos and Zac Posen were among those who attended the opening night of the production, which also stars Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Mary Beth Peil, Ora Jones, Raffi Barsoumian and Elena Kampouris. The evening continued at Gotham Hall, where guests were served French fare and gifted with Dessange Paris products and a “Lady Danger” hue of lipstick from MAC cosmetics.