BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton Street between Ashland Pl. & Rockwell Pl.
Leave it to the endlessly innovative Robert Wilson to reinterpret Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s classic story of seduction, LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, in yet new ways. The 1782 novel has been turned into movies, operas, a television miniseries, a ballet, and a Broadway play, but avant-garde stylist Wilson has turned things inside out and upside down – literally – in his unique, thrilling, and annoying staging of German playwright Heiner Müller’s condensed 1980 adaptation of de Laclos’s tale, running at the BAM Harvey Theater through November 14. (Gabriella Maione’s version of QUARTETT was performed at the Harvey back in 2001.) An oddly coiffed Isabelle Huppert, in a stylized, futuristic purple dress, stars as Madame de Merteuil, her dirty blonde hair wound into a large cone pointing off to the right; Ariel Garcia Valdès plays Valmont, made up in red to look like Mephistopheles. As the two protagonists discuss their sexual conquests and challenge each other to yet more – and switch roles, with Huppert speaking Valmont’s words and Valdès reciting the marquise’s – they are joined onstage by Rachel Eberhart in a short green dress (purposefully braless so she can bound around demurely) and a shirtless Louis Beyler, who act out sexual deviance and frustration, seemingly representing the younger marquise and Valmont as well as their various lovers. Benoît Maréchal rounds out the cast as a gangly, goofy old man in white whom Wilson has said is a stand-in for Müller himself. Only Valdès and Huppert speak; the other three actors frolic about the stage, hang suspended from above, and dance behind a partial curtain.
While Valdès devilishly overacts, Huppert is coldly mannered, her every movement carefully choreographed to a tee (as opposed to her previous appearance at BAM, when she stood stock-still throughout a harrowing version of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 PSYCHOSE). All of the characters occasionally break out into horrific laughter (which is actually piped in from offstage), with Huppert also sticking her tongue out to yet more strange sounds. Unfortunately, far too many of the actions are accompanied by a disturbing, alarming bang that perhaps is there to ensure those who aren’t quite getting it remain awake. The entertaining score is by Michael Galasso, who passed away in September. At ninety minutes, QUARTETT is almost shockingly short, which will delight less adventurous theatergoers. Wilson, who conceived and directed the production for the Odéon-théâtre de l'Europe and also designed the sets and lighting, has crafted yet another confounding visual spectacle, transforming the age-old story of wealthy socialites playing sexual games into a compelling, intriguing, and infuriating experience.