Erin Waterhouse is working in uncharted waters playing La Marquise de Merteuil, the evil and conniving female lead in Christopher Hampton’s “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” opening Friday night at the Schenectady Civic Playhouse.
“I have never played what I consider to be a completely unredeeming character before, so this is allowing me to stretch a little bit and explore,” said Waterhouse. “It’s been interesting to delve into all that diabolical mischief that some people seem to enjoy, so it’s been a fun, very wonderful experience so far.”
‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’
WHERE: Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 S. Church St., Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and March 22, through March 25
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: 382-2081, 346-6204, www.civicplayers.org
“Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” referred to as “Dangerous Liaisons” by most moviegoers who remember the 1988 film with Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer, was initially written as a novel in the 1780s by Frenchmen Choderlos de Laclos.
Changing setting to ’39
The movie was set in Paris in the late 18th century during the debauchery leading up to the French Revolution, and the story focuses on two ex-lovers, Merteuil and Vicomte De Valmont, played by Ian LaChance, who thrive on sexual seduction. Merteuil and Valmont are still the two main characters, but SCP director Richard Michael Roe has set this production in the fall of 1939, a few months before France is occupied by Nazi Germany.
“The play has had different settings in the past, and I didn’t want to try to re-create the film,” said Roe. “There aren’t that many era references in the play, so we really didn’t have to change that much. It was like changing carriage to car, and they’re using a fountain pen instead of ink and a quill. It’s much more about the intimate wars between people and how all that worked. Merteuil is still a very wealthy widow and powerful woman within that society.”
Her interaction with Valmont and their obsession to gain influence with Madame de Tourvel, played by Stephanie Insogna, is what drives the movie.
“I remember seeing the movie a long time ago, and I can recall the energy between Glenn Close and John Malkovich,” said Waterhouse. “It was almost like a duel between them, and it was a very naughty story line.”
The movie was rated R and the stage version is also filled with adult situations. Much is implied but not very much is shown.
“There are definitely a lot of bedroom scenes, but much of it is innuendo,” said Waterhouse. “I’m not a mother, but I told my 14-year-old sister, it’s based on your own comfort level. Some people are very strict about what their kids see, some people aren’t, and I will leave all that to those parents.”
According to Roe, the play isn’t as steamy as what’s on prime-time television these days.
“There are some situations and scenes that lead to more intimate acts, but there’s nothing blatant so I don’t think anyone will be offended,” said Roe. “There’s nothing worse than what you might see on ‘Real Housewives,’ or many of our other television shows.”
‘Always there, nagging’
Waterhouse, a native of Milford, Conn., moved to the Syracuse area when she was 10, and went to The College of Saint Rose and then Columbia University, where she earned a master’s degrgee in industrial/
organizational psychology. Now 30, she initially worked in New York City after college but moved to the Albany area in 2001 to start a new job. Acting really wasn’t a big part of her life.
“Being an actor was always something that was in the back of my mind, but I only performed once in a high school musical and that was as part of the ensemble,” said Waterhouse. “It was just one of those things. I came from humble beginnings and I felt like I had to decide between what I loved doing and what would pay the bills, so I studied psychology and business. But it was always there, nagging at me.”
In 2007, with very little experience, Waterhouse showed up at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham and auditioned for the part of Shelby in “Steel Magnolias.” Much to her surprise, she got it.
“I had absolutely no confidence in my ability, and at my first audition I almost got sick in the bathroom,” said Waterhouse. “But I knew I wanted it badly, and I knew I loved it. When I was done with that first audition at Curtain Call, I felt like I had finally done something that I was meant to do.”
Directed by Steve Fletcher, “Steel Magnolias” and Waterhouse earned superb reviews from Gazette critic Paul Lamar. For a newcomer like Waterhouse, working with her co-stars — Ruth Martin, Paula Ginder, Lezlie Dana, JoAnne Westervelt and Whitney Kaufman — was invaluable.
“Talk about a good first experience, those women were just incredible,” Waterhouse said of her fellow cast members. “It was wonderful, and being directed by Steve Fletcher was great.”
Waterhouse followed up that performance later in 2007 by playing the secretary, Grace Ferrell, in the Schenectady Light Opera Company production of “Annie.” In 2009, she also played the second Mrs. de Winter in the Schenectady Civic Players production of “Rebecca,” and in 2010 she was in both “Nunsense” at SLOC and “Chemical Imbalance: A Jekyll and Hyde Story.” She added to her résumé this season when she played the innkeeper’s wife and a Moorish dancer in the Capital Repertory Theatre’s staging of “Man of La Mancha.”
“I had submitted my head shot to them for a production later in the season, but they called me and asked me to come in and audition for ‘La Mancha,’ ” remembered Waterhouse. “I went, and it was probably one of my best decisions I made last year. Working there with Maggie [Mancinelli-Cahill] and getting to know all those other actors from New York City and all over the country, people who actually do this for a living, was just incredible.”
No more stage fright
Included in Waterhouse’s lack of confidence way back in high school was the fear of singing onstage, although she handled those duties just fine in “La Mancha.”
“I had horrible stage fright after high school, and I didn’t sing in front of anybody ever, except my husband,” said Waterhouse, who also performed last summer in the Not So Common Players production of “Cinderella.” “But I told myself a long time ago that by the time I’m 35 I’m going to be over that, and these last two singing experiences have been lovely. I think I’m past it, and I’ll be looking for opportunities to do some more singing.”
In her audition for “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” Waterhouse made an impact early on her new director.
“She read brilliantly, and I kept on watching her throughout the audition,” said Roe. “She radiates intelligence and sensuality. It’s very palpable, and she’s very interesting to look at. The audience really responds to her.”