A great actress is bestriding Broadway at the moment. Janet McTeer walks among us, and we all must pay homage to this great, great stage actress in her latest triumph “Les Liasions Dangereuses” And bestride the stage she does, for she is exceedingly tall and inevitably dominates every other actor and every minute she appears before us ands burns up the stage she is standing on..She’s a one-woman conflagration.
Seen just this summer as of all characters Shakespeare’s Petruchio, in the all-female “Taming of the Shrew” in the Park this July, she was totally convincing as a lascivious man. Playing him as a drugged-out Stephen Tyler-type rock star manqué, in blue jeans and leather, I totally forgot she was a woman. A better female-to-male drag performance I have never seen.
And now, in “Les Laision Dangereues” she is all woman and totally dangereuses. And we must herald her being here on Broadway so soon and in such a different swoon-worthy role. While her Petruchio was a total roue, her Marquise de Merteuil is the embodiment of pure. perfect feminine evil. She smiles as she kills.
She is the bored aristocrat at the center of Choderlos de Laclos’ constantly revived French classic play from the early 1780s, depicting in extremis the debaucherie of the ancien regime. And explaining fully just what was leading up to the French revolution in which it is quite probable that the duplicitous Marquise would have been the first to lose her lovely head.
But then again, perhaps not. She’s far to smart for that. A fashionable widow who may have killed her first and only husband, she wants nothing to do with re-marriage, because marriage she proclaims “is being told what to do.” And instead of sex, she revels in playing games with the men(and it is implied) the women around her. The Marquise will do anything for what she terms “the game.”She entices her former lover the Vicomte de Valmont into a bet, which is really a dance of death, of who can seduce who, and faster, of the hapless country dupes that surround them. And she wants written proof, too, in the form of a tear-stained letter!
Janet McTeer’s main problem apart from being so overwhelming tall is that she is such a powerful actress she tends to blow everyone else right off the stage. And in “Les Liasions…” she does so again.
Unfortunately I have to report that one of America’s foremost young actors Liev Schreiber is a mere nothing here. Uncomfortable in heels and 18th century wigs, frills, and hose, he is a virtual blank against the astounding, fiery Ms. McTeer’s blazing Marquise.
The two destructive seducers at the center of this viler than vile behavior need to be evenly matched, and they surprisingly are not. The six foot four Schrieber matches McTeer in height, but little else.
Though I have admired him since his days at the Yale School of Drama, he is totally at a loss here, and not convincing at all as the dissolute lothario he is meant to be. His usual charisma is dulled and he seems ill at ease and actually miscast as the supposed equally maleficent Valmont. He’s not sexy in the least. Worse, he seems to be phoning the Vicomte in. He is plodding as McTeer is magisterial. And on fire.
McTeer swoops and dives across her victims on the stage as Schreiber bores them all to death.
Only the Danish actress, Brigitte Hjort Sorensen holds her own against them in the supporting role of the doomed, puritanical Madame de Tourvel.
But any chance to catch the bewitching McTeer onstage live is well worth the price of admission and she is giving one of her greatest performances ever as the epitome of French perversion, all the while smiling, and simpering and dithering and consoling those she is destroying in the most aristocratic of British accents. Her Marquise de Merteuil is the greatest interpretation of this often revived role that you’ll ever see. McTeer is absolutely top drawer as she opens the drawer, withdraws the stiletto within and stabs you through the heart. She’s chilling and beguiling and not to be missed.