Playwright: Tom Smith. At: The Cuckoo's Theater Project at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave. Tickets: TheCuckoos TheaterProject.com; $20. Runs through: April 3
The mind races at the potential approaches to a gay male version of Dangerous Liaisons, which is what Tom Smith's new play Dangerous aims to be for The Cuckoo's Theater Project.
Dangerous could have been a campy lampoon in the vein of drag and sex joke-filled works by Charles Busch or Dan Savage. The 1988 film classic is ripe for parody in the overly serious way that acclaimed actors like John Malkovich and Glenn Close portrayed scheming members of 18th century French society playing vicious games of sex and love.
Or Dangerous could have stuck closer to Christopher Hampton's 1980s stage drama Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which drew its inspiration from Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's original 18th century novel of the same name. A serious period drama with gay characters added to the mix might have been a fascinating historical view to homosexuality in centuries past.
Smith's ultimate approach to Dangerous is to update the action to 2010 New York by focusing on a clique of older A-list gays and the young and dumb twinks they manipulate. Hence we get Marcus ( Shane Roberie ) egging on the lothario Alexander Valmont ( Marc James ) to not only sleep with the inexperienced personal trainer Jason ( Justin Dietzel ), but to seduce the handsome in-training priest Trevor ( Cory Lipman ). Also in the mix is Valmont's sex buddy, Landon ( Leo LaCamara ), the music teacher Daniel ( Joe Faifer ) and the cancer-stricken Rosemonde ( Rocco Renda ).
Alas, Dangerous feels dated since Smith follows the earlier works' templates of plot, character and social mores so closely. Oh sure, the script does mention emailing, texting and spy webcams set up to capture trysts to be uploaded to amateur porn sites. But Smith doesn't infuse his drama as deeply as he could to show the modern world that we live in, or how people's online actions and personas can be used to destroy others' reputations or aspirations.
Director Mason Absher's bare-bones production either didn't have the budget or technological wherewithal to deploy projections to visually depict these mentions of social media, either. So what we get is a stop-start paced production with clunky scene changes.
Absher's casting choices are also questionable. Try as he might, James' Valmont doesn't come across as a credible serial seducer who can bed any man he chooses. The rest of the cast also seem hampered by their implausible characters who are either so innocent or so manipulative that there is little else for them to play behavior-wise.
Despite its potential, Dangerous is ultimately disappointing. The sex and relationship games played by modern gay guys aren't reflected in Dangerous, which looks backwards more than being an embodiment of today.