NAPLES PLAYERS: "LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES"
IF YOU GO
What: Original play that inspired "Dangerous Liaisons," about the amoral games among French nobility
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 24
Where: 701 5th Avenue South, Naples
Cost: $25; limited tickets available in Tobye Studio
Information: (239) 263-7990, naplesplayers.org
Something else: The downtown parking garage fills up quickly during season. Plan to arrive early or be prepared to hunt for on-the-street parking.
On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog
NAPLES — Paul Graffy is determined that audiences not view the brief glimpses of breasts, buttocks and bare boys in his production of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" as shocking.
"It is an edgy play," Graffy told the Daily News in the days before the show opened. His wide-ranging interview strayed from scenes of nudity in the play to how the behavior of the characters could be considered akin to today's modern cyber-bullying.
He even points to a line from Act I that echoes his point, uttered by Madame Rosemond: "The only thing that might surprise one is how little the world changes."
SEX, AND SCANDAL
Based on books of letters that describe scandalous sexual adventures of various French nobility, the show features the Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont warring against each other (and everyone else) through the use of seduction and sexual desire. Christopher Hampton's acclaimed stage play was adapted into a steamy film version, "Dangerous Liaisons." Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer lit up movie screens in 1988, winning three Academy Awards.
"The behavior is no different than today, just the context is different" Graffy emphasized. "These people liked to ruin lives for their own amusement."
Graffy wants his particular production to retain that "timeless" element. Even though "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" is set in pre-French Revolution Paris, he won't be using Louis XVI furniture and period costumes. This owes partly to the limited size of the Tobye Studio space and the logistics that would be required to create 18 scene changes across nine different locations - along with the gowns, corsets and wigs that go with them.
"This story works well to tell it very simply," Graffy said. "It is no place, but every place."
Kathleen Butler Gravatt plays scheming Marquise de Merteuil, while Mark Vanagas slips into the skin (sometimes nothing more) of the oily Vicomte de Valmont. Both amoral characters constantly raise the stakes in games that break the hearts, minds and spirits of everyone around them. Veteran Naples Players actors Victoria Diebler (Emilie), Carol Fenstermacher (Rosemond) and Laura Needle (Tourvel) join the cast, along with Joseph Lang (Danceny).
"They had too much [money] and had nothing better to do," Graffy said of the wealthy nobles at the center of the play.
HOW WILL AUDIENCES REACT?
The play features several sensuous, titillating and borderline shocking moments. In one scene, Valmont writes a letter to a would-be conquest on the back of a naked courtesan. In another, Valmont slips into the bedchamber of an under-aged girl.
October 24 might see a mighty gasp from the pearl-clutching patrons that make up a large percentage of the Naples Players fan base. Then again, the few seconds of naked flesh may well earn a collective "meh" from an audience weaned on years of "The Shield," "Sons of Anarchy," "Breaking Bad," "The Walking Dead" and other cable hits in an increasingly coarse media environment.
Naples Players artistic director Dallas Dunnagan believes that Tobye Studio audiences appreciate the smaller, black box venue for its ability to showcase productions "meant to stretch the conservative nature of Naples."
"I don't think [audiences] will have a problem with [the nudity]," Dunnagan said. "The real problem is when an audience member shows up and is unaware of the content of the show."
Seven other community theaters plan productions of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" this year. At least two contacted by the Daily News said that they opted not to use nudity.
One production, staged at the University of Kentucky, gives the show a modern feel and uses an early 1980s French punk rock soundtrack.
"We used absolutely no nudity in the production," director and Department of Theatre chair Nancy C. Jones said, "yet I feel that it is ultra-sexy."
KEEPING THE PATRONS INFORMED
The Naples Players have made every effort to keep patrons informed of the show's content, Dunnagan said. Signs are at the box office and ticket-sellers notify every buyer that the show has "adult language, situations and nudity." Notices have gone out on the theater's social media channels and in every press release distributed for the show.
Naples mayor John Sorey, a member of the Naples Players board, "absolutely" plans to attend a production of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses."
"The Tobye Studio is known to be a little more aggressive and a little more avant-garde," Sorey said. "We are letting ticket-holders know that this is going to occur, but if you've seen the play, you know that this is a 'blink and you miss it' kind of situation."
Sorey takes pains to say that the show will not feature any kind of rampant nudity and stresses that "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" will be "well done."
"It's not like we're going to have fifteen nudes running around on stage," Sorey rumbled, "or it's going to be a strip show or anything like that."
Of course, Graffy and the Naples Players are hoping for applause, solid ticket sales and good worth of mouth about the quality of acting on display - not the quantity of skin on offer.
"I don't think [audiences] are even going to react if it is done organically," Graffy said, confident in his vision. "Once you get over the fact that you've got people naked in front of you, you don't really think of it."
"Les Liaisons Dangereuses" plays at 8 p.m. Wednesday - Saturday and 2 p.m. Sundays from Oct. 24 - Nov. 17. Tickets are $25. Call 239-263-7990 or online at naplesplayers.org.