Power plays. Duplicity. Seduction. Betrayal. No, we're not talking about the backstage machinations of local theater, but rather the unconventional production of "Dangerous Liaisons," opening Friday at Spotlight Theatre.
Set in modern times (a la "Cruel Intentions," the 1999 film based on the story), the tale of the scheming Marquise de Merteuil and her adversary, the Vicomte de Valmont, is in the hands of a capable cast, led by Los Angeles actors Andria Kozica and Ryan Garcia.
But it's not just the actors who will be involved in the drama, which is being produced as part of the edgier Spotlight Series. The show will make audience members, too, feel like they're a part of the action.
"The audience works as an amoeba," said director Franklin Killian. "It travels around with the story. Geographically, it has 13 or 14 different locations. It's constantly moving.
"It's so appropriate with this play to have that kind of involvement. It's one step ahead of the characters. (In the play) everyone is dying to catch up, but they're (Merteuil and Valmont) always one step ahead, leading people by the nose.
"This play is an unrelenting battle for eminence through manipulation, violence and unhinged seduction. We tell that story with more than the text. Make the audience feel the way the characters feel. The arena is open."
Along with Kozica and Garcia, the cast consists of Ashten Smith as Madame de Tourvel; Libby Letlow as Madame de Volanges; Kayla Frayre as her daughter, Cecile; Perrin Swanson as Cecile's beau, Le Chevalier Danceny; Jenny Maddern as Valmont's Aunt Rosemonde; and Bryce Rankins and Alexis Skaggs playing servants and Azolan and Emile, respectively.
The cast will just about rival the audience in size, since this is an intimately staged show.
"We're only allowing 20 audience members an evening. The production itself has a very mobile aspect to it. We have to transport the audience in different areas that won't seat any more than 20 people. We are being very, very strict on it.
"If you make reservations, it's only the first step. When people make reservations, they think that no matter what time they show up there will be a seat. They may not show up until 7:10. I never like to start a show late, so they have to be on time, because otherwise they will miss out."
Mounting such an ambitious show is exactly what Killian had in mind when he took over the production.
"The show was announced when I started working with Jarred (Clowes) and Alex (Neal)," said Killian, who has been named to head the theater's planned summer student program. "I asked, 'Who's directing it? Because I would give a limb to direct it.'
"At the time, Hal (Friedman) was going to direct it. Jarred called Hal, whose wife was going to have a baby. He said, 'If it's a passion project for you, if your heart's in it, go for it.'"
With full investment from the Spotlight team -- "Not knowing very much about me, they trusted me" -- Killian got started with his two leads, Kozica and Garcia, whom he knew in L.A.
"I wanted to bring some friends up. I don't live in Bakersfield, and I wasn't going to move to Bakersfield."
With a strong background in repertory theater, known for brief but intense rehearsal periods, Killian brought that ethic to "Liaisons."
"The way I pitched 'Dangerous Liaisons' to the actors was the first day of rehearsal you have to be off-book. You're expected to know this; you do it. You don't know what you're capable of until you try.
"They've (the cast) surprised themselves enough to find they're capable of so much. It's a case of mind over matter. It will allow them to take more risks, whether that's on the stage or off."
Challenging his actors and himself keeps Killian motivated and creating.
"I find comfort in the chaos. How I live my life -- trial and error with constant risk. If it doesn't have risk, it's probably not worth doing."