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Finland's "Les Liaisons dangereuses" Finland's "Les Liaisons dangereuses"
by Thanos Kalamidas
2008-04-09 08:07:40
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I have often said that I love theater. I love theater and I like cinema, but nothing can compare to the experience of a theater play. A film, any film, however well made and however expensive, has nothing on a play in a background stage and with a very small budget. My love for the theater goes so far as to watch plays in a language I don’t understand.

Over the last ten years I have lived in Finland one of the things I really miss is theater. I used to go at least twice a month and now I’m trying to go as often I can - you see, some of these plays I know them by heart. I have seen them a few times with different actors, in different languages – I could understand – and for some of them I even have the printed version of the script. And I don’t stop to the classics; naturally Bertolt Brecht and Arthur Miller are included in my favorites and I do read scripts from temporary theater writers.

The reason I said all that was to make you understand that I continue visiting theaters in Finland as often I can and usually I try to see a play I already know or at least to get access to the script so I can follow what’s going on. It’s like watching a silent move but in theater with real actors. That means that you start seeing things about the directing or the scenography, even the music, things you missed before, but most of all you start watching the actors and the actresses. So here was I, in a very good seat, seventh row in the middle, in the National Theater of Finland watching … Les Liaisons dangereuses (Vaarallisia Suheteita in Finnish)!

Do you remember back in the late-80s, Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Michelle Pfeiffer? Exactly that! The film included stars like Keanu Reeves, Uma Thurman and Joe Sheridan and the name of the film was Dangerous Liaisons. I didn’t have the script and I never read de Laclos’ book but the film was so strong and well-made, plus Glenn Close and John Malkovitch’s performances were so superb that it made the memory very strong.

I think that was one of the problems the leading actors had to deal with; Timo Tuominen, the actor who plays the role of Vicomte Sébastien de Valmont, tries hard, really hard for two bloody hours and twenty-five minutes to be John Malkovitch. Somewhere in the end he manages to find success, but I have to admit that, despite some Malkovitch faces, Mr. Tuominen will never be John Malkovitch and it is a pity because when he was letting himself free I could sense that he is a very good actor.

Katariina Kaitue as Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil was really good. She did exactly what Mr. Tuominen wanted to do, she was nothing of Glenn Close, she was comfortable with her role and the moments she was on stage she dominated the eyes and the senses of the audience with her strong performance and appeal. And then it was Marjaama Maijala as Madame Marie de Tourvel, I loved her. She was up to the standards of her role, she was sensitive to her character and seductive to the audience, she has character and I will definitely watch her in the future.

Anna Paavilainen was the young corrupted Cécile de Volanges; here I have to admit that I gave up. I had the feeling that she was playing in some kind of teenagers’ soap opera about Hollywood High! I hope the other cast has a better Cécile because this one was …well, no more comments here. But then I was rewarded by Valmont’s old auntie played by Marjukka Halttunen. I have to admit I was looking forward for her appearance on stage. She was Queen Victoria herself. She was royal, fantastic, she was the queen and the good aunt at the same time; her sweet face, her graceful movements made her perfect for the role.

However, my favorite and the highlight of the play was countertenor. A comic dramatic character the way only great comedians know how to do. A great voice, acting and a fantastic body language; everything theater is about! And that was Jouko Uusipaasto! Just for this highlight it was worth the two and a half hours of not understanding a word. The fact is that the character is out of the blue but it is a pity that he played only near the end of the first part, this character should reappear in the dramatic finale. I have to admit that I was expecting something like that and I was disappointed it didn’t happen.

Countertenors are rare in music because it demands great vocal abilities, technique and a lot of practice and I would expect from a production when they got one to make the best of it, especially when this countertenor can combine his voice with the acting talent.

The scenography was really good and cleverly made the stage look bigger, while the lighting was equally good. The director had to deal with two major problems, the past of the Hollywood film with major actors and actresses in the major roles, so imitation was difficult to avoid and, at the same time, the Finnish players were obviously strong personalities with a great past on the Finnish stage. I think Katariina Lahti managed very well. She is not Stephen Frears, not because she’s not good enough, but because she lives in Finland and that’s the destiny of talented people from small countries - they try to make art by watching all the mediocrity conquer Hollywood. I don’t know her former works and I have definitely no idea for her future plans but she has the talent to direct great productions.

One more thing a small note to the directing, I had three times the sense of déjà vu, when Isabelle de Merteuil and Valmont sit on the sofa arguing. It happens three times during the play and every time you have the feeling that it is all the same again and again and again. Perhaps one of these times the couple should stand or act differently.

I left the music and the sound last. The music was good but the sound had definitely problems. The music was not fading when the actors started talking, was dying suddenly and most of the time on its loudest pick. So when the soft voices where following you could hardly hear anything after that loud sound.

So, if you live in Helsinki and you do understand Finnish, best of all if you are a Finn I definitely suggest you to go and see this play. I watched it with one cast but I know that there is another one that I might watch in the near future – I said I have a psychotic love with the theater! If you live in Helsinki and you don’t understand Finnish is a good chance to live the experience with a play you probably know. Both ways go and see it!


    
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Emanuel Paparella2008-04-09 12:27:09
Indeed Thanos, theater must be in the genes of every Greek. To make theater a ritual in one’s life is a quintessentially Greek phenomenon when one considers that the theater of Ancient Greece evolved from religious rites which date back to 1200 BC, more specifically from the cult of Dionysus which included uninhibited dancing and emotional and mind altering emotional displays known as “ecstatis,” an important religious concept to the Greeks who assigned to it symbolic powers and came to see theater as a way of releasing powerful emotions through its ritual power (Aristotle calls it catharsis). The death of a tragic hero was offered up to God rather than the sacrifice of a goat. No wonder Nietzsche proposed a retrieval of the Dionysian spirit in the West. The Shakespeare of Elizabethan England rivaled the Greek dramatists but it is doubtful that he ever surpassed them in their genial connection of religion to the theater.


Thanos2008-04-09 21:10:17
Ha, sometimes I really feel that theater is in my genes!!! :)

One little thing, you must admit that Greek theater was the one that controverted god as well! Aristophanes is a great example.


Emanuel Paparella2008-04-10 05:19:49
Indeed, that is how Nietzsche understood the Dyonisian spirit and that is whay he could proclaim (via his madman)that God is dead and Dostoyevsky could then add that "if God is dead, anything is permitted." Both were prophets in their own unique way.


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