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Novel of decadence brought to stage in import from Britain

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Les Liaisons Dangereuses Play by Christopher Hampton, from the novel by Choderlos de Laclos. Directed by Howard Davies. Dark deeds plotted and performed in a white-on-white ambiance - such are the bold contrasts employed to project the shimmering decadence depicted in Christopher Hampton's ``Les Liaisons Dangereuses,'' at the Music Box. Still running in London, the Royal Shakespeare Company's prizewinning hit comes to New York with almost its entire original cast.

Working from an 18th-century French novel by Choderlos de Laclos, Mr. Hampton has created his own distinctive group portrait of aristocratic worldlings whose pastimes included sexual exploitation of the susceptible and defenseless.

``I thought betrayal was your favorite word,'' remarks the dissolute Valmont (Alan Rickman) to Merteuil (Lindsay Duncan), the ex-mistress who has remained his confidante. ``No, no, cruelty,'' replies the equally cynical Merteuil.

Valmont finally pays with his life for the cruelty and betrayal he and Merteuil have inflicted. The relentless seducer is dispatched by young Danceny (Hilton McRae), whose marriage plans the older man has ruined. But Valmont has already been self-destroyed by having betrayed a love that was ``the only real happiness I have ever known.''

The road to retribution in ``Les Liaisons Dangereuses'' is lengthy and intricate. The fact that Valmont and Merteuil will finally betray each other is one of the numerous ironies in Mr. Hampton's distanced account of these glittering conspirators.

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