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John Malkovich Wants You to Brush Up On Your French

The award-winning actor directs “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”—in French—at the Lansburgh Theatre.

Photograph of Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Gaspard Leclerc.

Twenty-four years after John Malkovich starred
in the movie Dangerous Liaisons, the actor is directing a
French-language production of the play Les Liaisons
based on the drama by Christopher Hampton, which in
turn was taken from a novel by Choderlos de Laclos. The show comes to
Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre December 6 through 9,
following a run earlier this year at Paris’s Théâtre de

The new version of the story—about the romantic manipulations
of immoral aristocrats Vicomte de Valmont and Marquise de Merteuil—fuses
18th-century culture with modern trappings, so the actors wear corsets and
wigs over jeans (Malkovich also helped design the costumes) and text one
another love notes and photos. “The book was written when the French had
nothing to do but seduce people,” says Théâtre de l’Atelier artistic
director Laura Pels, “so it’s historical in terms of
presenting the way people lived, but in a modern way.”

Malkovich auditioned more than 300 student actors before
selecting a troupe whose members were all under 25, in keeping with the
ages of the novel’s characters. While Hampton’s play was nominated for a
Tony Award when it ran on Broadway in 1987, Pels says the adaptation is
truer to the novel’s spirit: “The French is very saucy, so it would be a
pity to have it in English. It’s not that it has to be done in French, but
it has to be done in a way that gives a sense of what motivated these
people. I don’t think Malkovich would have done it in any other

Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Dec. 6 to 9 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre. Tickets ($60 to $75) at

This article appears in the December 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.