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For This Spanish Provocateur, Each Performance is About Survival

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Liddell’s take on theater history is certainly idiosyncratic. In “Liebestod,” she describes the tradition as populated with “bureaucrats, bit-part players and technicians with rights.” She finds most contemporary theater productions, she said afterward, “naïve and a bit childish, because they’re always focused on the good.”

Very nicely — she can be as gentle in real life as she is abrasive in her work — Liddell said that she had no interest in playing nice. “I find these times to be repugnant, because everything is about likes,” she said. “I don’t want to show the best of myself during a performance. I want to show my ugly sides, that I can be a monster as well.”

Her interests lie in the sinister corners of the human psyche. She has written about terrorist attacks, cannibalism and her sexual desire for criminals. Her productions are laced with references to art history and religion, and have a ritualistic quality. In “St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians,” a doctor collected her blood onstage, and Liddell’s fluids also make an appearance when she scrapes her hands and legs in “Liebestod.”

“It has been a long time since I cut myself in my work, but I needed to create that state of irrationality. Blood is love, beauty and death — like a holy trinity,” she said, before tempering: “I must add that I only do these cuts in front of an audience, never by myself.”

Still, Liddell says she doesn’t consider herself an actress. “There is no distance between me and the stage,” she said. “It’s a different level: It’s not a performance, it’s a transfiguration.”

Liddell is a rare artist who is wholly uninterested in the current political or social discourse. In 2018, she even produced an anti-#MeToo manifesto, “The Scarlet Letter,” in which she extolled men’s superiority. “People were so pure, so correct, so moralizing,” she said of #MeToo.

But surely, I suggested, the feminist movement created the conditions for uncompromising women like her to create freely. Liddell dismissed the idea: “What I needed for my work to happen is to be who I am, to have illiterate parents when I was growing up, poor grandparents, a mother who was intellectually impaired.”


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