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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at The Music Box Theatre, New York

By Bill Stevenson

  Marian Seldes and Angela Lansbury

On paper, Terrence McNally's new play Deuce has a lot going for it: a pair of theater legends, Marian Seldes and Angela Lansbury (making her first Broadway appearance in nearly 25 years); ace director Michael Blakemore (Copenhagen); and McNally (Master Class, Love! Valour! Compassion!). For those of us who are tennis fans, Deuce's subject matter is another selling point.

Many plays offer more promise than actual entertainment value, however, and Deuce is a prime example.

McNally just isn't at the top of his game in this disappointing vehicle for actresses of a certain age.

Midge Barker (Seldes) and Leona Mullen (Lansbury) were a top doubles team in their heyday (when tennis rackets were wooden and female players didn't shriek every time they hit the ball). Now guests of honor at the U.S. Open, they're watching two young women slug it out on the court. Unfortunately, that means the actresses sit for most of the play, with their heads pivoting as they watch the match and reminisce. Even Blakemore can't keep the staging from being static.

And even theater royalty can't overcome writing that isn't lively and central characters that aren't terribly interesting. Beyond being tennis champions, Midge and Leona haven't done anything remarkable. And while they've lost touch over the years, they don't harbor lingering resentments (except that Midge "lived in terror" of Leona's double faults). If Midge and Leona were less amiable, Deuce might have more bite.

As it is, Deuce says nothing new about how tennis has changed and fails as a comedy since most of the jokes fizzle. Desperately seeking a laugh or two, McNally has Midge and Leona use the c-word (rhymes with bunt).

Coming from the ladylike senior citizens, the profanity rings false. McNally doesn't fare better when he tries to be touching. "You were a good partner," Midge finally tells Leona, and that's as deep as the dialogue gets.

Seldes, an Off Broadway mainstay in recent years, reins in the grand gestures that usually make her so delightful to watch. Lansbury has a few good moments but is similarly restrained. Three supporting players have even less rewarding roles: Brian Haley and Joanna P. Adler play insipid TV announcers, and Michael Mulhern is "An Admirer," a tennis buff who-like the TV announcers-waxes rhapsodic about Midge and Leona's glory days.

At least in the theater, unlike in tennis, old pros like Seldes and Lansbury can keep working. But it's a shame they couldn't find a better show to costar in than the creaky, lifeless Deuce.


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