Day: August 16th, 2007

Living legends

Thursday, August 16th, 2007 | All Things, Arts

At the Music Box Theatre with B tonight to catch Deuce in the final week of its 18-week limited run.

Deuce

The play, which opened on May 6, 2007 is a two character study of Midge Barker and Leona Mullen — two (fictional) long-retired tennis players, once the most celebrated doubles partners in women’s tennis. The pair, who have not been in contact for the past decade, are reunited to be feted at the U.S. Open. Over the course of their 90-minute conversation – no intermission – their long-held hopes, triumphs, disappointments and heartbreaks are rehashed, towards the goal of some kind of closure. That’s the general idea, anyway. What happens on stage (and it isn’t much) is beside the point; the true raison d’etre of the night could be summed up in two words: Angela Lansbury.

Actually, the whole production carries its share of star power: playwright Terrence McNally is a four-time Tony winner (Master Class, Ragtime, Love! Valour! Compassion!, Kiss of the Spider Woman), the director, Michael Blakemore, a two time honoree (Kiss Me Kate, Copenhagen). Lansbury’s co-star, the wonderful Marian Seldes, is something of a New York institution: a Tony-winner and American Theatre Hall of Fame inductee herself, with a decades-long career on the stage, screen and radio, and on the faculty at Julliard and Fordham.

But it was almost entirely for the much beloved Lansbury that the audience cheered as soon as the curtain rose. Deuce marks the 81-year old’s first time on Broadway since her performance in the 1983 revival of Mame. (She withdrew from Kander and Ebb’s planned Broadway musical version of The Visit – book by McNally — in 2000 to care for her ailing husband, Peter Shaw, who died in 2003.) Until this year’s awards when she lost to Jennifer Ehle (for The Coast of Utopia), Lansbury was the only actress to go undefeated in a Tony competition, having won all four for which she was nominated. In a career spanning over six decades, she may be best known as the star of Murder, She Wrote, the longest-running detective drama in television history. From 1984 to 1996, Jessica Fletcher entertained the geriatric set until CBS moved the show to Thursday nights opposite Friends, sounding the death knell for the long-running drama. (Lansbury, despite bring nominated 18 times for the Emmy, has never won.)

A Viagra joke early in the evening was overshadowed later by the cheap shock of these two ineffably classy thespians trading the c-word (you know: “See you next Tuesday”) in referring to one former husband’s new wife. But nothing could detract from the overall joy of watching the two theater legends banter, even though the wisp of a play by the talented “McDonald’s” McNally – so called for his famed prolificacy — was more amusing than thought-provoking. USA Today likened the performance to “two gems set in pewter.” Most reviewers, including the Times‘s Ben Brantley, loved the leads, if not the play – a sentiment with which I could fully agree.

You still rule:

Times Square You Rule

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