Sex and Deceit in the Community Theatre

My grandfather and I go to the Ottawa Little Theatre every month. When I saw that it was putting on Dangerous Liaisons, I thought back to Cruel Intentions, that movie with Ryan Philippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar full of sexual power games and deceit. I knew that Dangerous Liaisons was the 18th century French play that the movie was based on – but I didn’t think that the OLT would put on something so risqué. I figured it it must be a much tamer version.

Well, I was wrong. The play, just like the movie, is all about sexual conquests and manipulation. And it all came spewing forth from the mouths of actors on a stage used to much tamer stuff.

I think probably the last 20 plays I’ve seen at the OLT have been comedies. Okay, I exaggerate. But the OLT went through a serious financial turnaround a few years ago and one of the recipes for success has been choosing plays that are lighter, plays that will bring out an audience.

Plus, that audience remains mainly older. Not your stereotypical crowd for avant-garde, boundary-pushing art – even if that means a French play over 200 years old.

Some of the comedies have been downright hits. This spring’s Self Help by Norm Foster was riotously funny from beginning to end.

The production values at OLT are always good. The artistic teams of this community theatre have infectious enthusiasm and it shows. The acting is often great, the sets and costumes always seem of a professional quality. They’ve been doing it for 99 years. Show after tightly directed show rolls onto and off of the stage every month.

But when directors and actors are given a flat script, there’s not much that they can do. And I think that is what has occasionally been a challenge for the theatre recently.

Of course, a script about sex and deceit isn’t necessarily better than a farce. But this script about sex and deceit was a great story that held my interest from beginning to end. It was a gift to the actors. To top it all off, the actors took it and ran. Veterans John Muggleton and Venetia Lawless made the stage pulse with an intense counterpoint — a play-long duel of wits. They play the Vicomte de Valmont and Marquise de Merteuil, who toy with the hearts of the other characters like cats with mice.

Director Geoff Gruson writes in the program: “A story about a sexually ravenous, amoral, and unscrupulous individual, who skillfully bends a poor innocent’s will, coolly creating circumstances to bring about the abandonment of her values and morals may not be the usual OLT fair; but hopefully, as this play marks our final regular season play of our 99th season, it will hint at future opportunities to challenge, as well as entertain you.”

I really applaud the OLT for taking a risk with this play.

As for the reception of this scandalous story among the OLT crowd, I can only speak for my 93-year-old grandfather. “That was a damn good play,” he said, on the way home. That said, he has yet to go to an OLT show that he hasn’t liked.

(I hope that the record will go unblemished after Jasper Station this August. It’s another great Norm Foster script. It’s also a musical. And I happen to be acting and singing in it.)


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