Mirren lets monsters, 'bad stuff' out on stage

After watching Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren tear into each other for two hours in Strindberg’s lacerating portrait of marriage what were all those glittering first-nighters from “Dance of Death” thinking as they sprinted across 42nd Street to get on the chow line at the Bryant Park Grill?

Marisa Tomei looked aghast at the notion that prolonged exposure to such connubial cruelty might sour anyone on love and stuff. “I just feel inspired by the brilliant performances,” she said, carefully.

Indeed, the general response Thursday night among the guests — who included Liv Tyler, Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth, Jim Dale, James Naughton and Kathleen Turner — was to party heartier.

“I have always liked that play,” said Shubert chairman Gerald Schoenfeld, who said that “it was my idea” to co-produce the “very risky, very expensive” classic with Roger Berlind and Chase Mishkin. Across the room, his wife, Pat, joked, “It’s going to make everyone’s marriage look wonderful by comparison.”

So, which of the play’s battle-scarred veterans actually wins this domestic war? “Nobody wins –Strindberg wins,” said star McKellen, who was too busy kissing friends to get into fighting mode.

Although his co-star Mirren agreed, she took a stand for the “killer” wife she plays. “She really is a monster, isn’t she?” she said, with a triumphant grin. “I’m a sweet person — really, I am — but I love to play monsters. It’s how I get all my bad stuff out.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more