It doesn't seem fair to call the Spokane Civic Theatre a "hidden" gem. Geographically hidden, maybe. It's tucked in between two large parking lots adjacent to the Spokane Arena, out of view from all but careful observers driving down Boone Avenue.
But "hidden gem" just isn't accurate--if you're from Spokane and have even a casual interest in live entertainment, you're probably familiar with the Spokane Civic Theatre's reputation for executing high quality stage productions. This weekend, I had a lucky chance to see their production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, and it exceeded my already-high expectations.
Going in, I was unfamiliar with the play. Some wiki-surfing told me that it was adapted for the stage from a scandalous1 French novel published in the early 1780s—pre-French Revolution, and just a generally unpleasant time to be a Frenchman for all but the richest of the rich. If Les Misérables is the story of large-hearted people with poor fortune, Liaisons is its polar opposite.
The tone is clearly established before the play begins. The set design screams 80s Wall Street penthouse2 which is further complemented by a tactfully chosen soundtrack of hollow, robotic pop tunes from the decade.3 While the original novel takes place in pre-Revolution France, the play remains temporally ambiguous—the impending 90s are hinted at, but whether the decade in question is the 1790s, 1990s, or 2090s is open to audience interpretation.
Costume design that is obviously inspired (though not plagiaristically) by the recent Hunger Games series evokes an air of bloated opulence favored by the aristocracy. I was reminded of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet and its ability to transplant historically-saturated plot and dialogue into a contemporary set-piece without missing a beat. Double entendre volleys between characters like machine gun fire across no man’s land as the cast works skillfully to bring the dialogue to life, pulling the audience from riotous laughter to pin-dropping silence and back again.
If you’ve never seen it, Les Liaisons Dangereuses might not be a title that jumps out on your “must-see” list, but once you catch a performance at the Spokane Civic Theatre, it’ll become a must-see-again.
Liaisons runs through January 31, 2016. Don't miss it!
Click here to purchase tickets.
1. Scandalous is an understatement—this play is probably not appropriate for children, though, I am not a parent, nor do I know your children. Use discretion.
2. Think American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman with a more colorful flair.
3. Quintessentially represented by an opening number from Tears for Fears.