May 6, 2007
Only Two Reasons to See "Deuce"
The display case outside a theater usually shows photos of the production that's currently inside. But the case outside the Music Box Theater doesn't have pictures of Deuce, the new Terrence McNally play about the reunion of a pair of former tennis doubles partners. Instead, it offers a photographic retrospective of the careers of the show's two stars, Angela Lansbury and Marian Seldes. And that's fitting. Because there really isn't much else going for this slight play. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't go see it. Lansbury, who over nearly seven decades has triumphed in, as they used to say, stage (four Tony Awards), screen (three Oscar nominations) and television (18 Emmy nominations, 12 of them for her iconic portrayal of Jessica Fletcher in "Murder She Wrote"), hasn't been on Broadway in 26 years and, as she says in a lovely interview with the New York Times' Jesse Green (click here to read it), this is also her first time before a live audience since the death in 2003 of her beloved husband of 38 years, producer Peter Shaw. Seldes, daughter of the influential cultural critic Gilbert Seldes and widow of the writer Garson Kanin, has been a constant pleasure for both Broadway and off-Broadway audiences (5 Tony nominations, including a win for the original production of A Delicate Balance, and 6 Drama Desk nominations) for 60 years. Both are still playing at the top of their games and it's a treat just to watch them volley back and forth during the play's 90 intermissionless minutes.
I went to Deuce with my friend Ellie, the one-time actress whom I've known since we were stage-struck teenagers. Like the characters Lansbury and Seldes play we've experienced our share of double faults and missed balls over the course of our relationship. And like those characters, we find neutral territory in something we both love—in our case it isn't running around on a tennis court but sitting in a darkened theater. After seeing Deuce, Ellie and I walked over to the Paramount Hotel for a drink. One of the great things about one act shows is that you get out early enough to get a good seat at a bar or restaurant. Ellie and I first went to the Paramount a decade ago with a mutual friend to celebrate the opening of The Who's Tommy, which the friend had helped bring to New York. The hotel is not as “in” as it was back then but we still felt grand and daring walking up its dramatic, banister-less staircase and we got a great table overlooking its delightfully eccentric lobby. There is something about old friendships, even when they fray a bit. That's what Deuce is about. It's not a revelation. But with actors like Lansbury and Seldes delivering the message you don't mind so much hearing it again.