Monday, May 07, 2007

Deuce (The SOB Review)

Deuce (The SOB Review) - Music Box Theatre, New York, NY

*** (out of ****)

There's a line near the end of Deuce offered up by an adoring fan (Michael Mulheren) of tennis legends Midge Barker (Marian Seldes) and Leona Mullen (Angela Lansbury) in which he implores the audience to "Look at them. You will not see their likes again."

From the moment the curtain was raised on this Michael Blakemore-helmed play by Terrence McNally, I did exactly prompting necessary. I relished the opportunity to sit in the presence of these two theatrical treasures, both of whom delivered their lines flawlessly and from the heart. I realize that this was a moment to cherish.

While the play itself is no great shakes, the performances offered by these two leading ladies of the stage far transcended the mediocre material they were given, enough to make for an enjoyable -- and yes, entertaining -- evening at the theatre.

While less accomplished actresses may have double-faulted with the material, these two kept the volley of conversation ranging from past loves to the indignities of growing old mostly in bounds -- save for the occasional jokey utterance of a four letter word.

Without question, Deuce offers one of McNally's slightest pieces of work: a story of a celebrated yesteryear tennis doubles team who together nearly had it all -- including a near grand slam -- during an era preceding one when the game provided giant payouts and endorsement deals to its female stars. Thirty-some years after they retired, the two champions are reunited at a present-day tennis tournament where they're about to be honored.

Seated throughout most of the show, Midge and Leona reminisce about what was and might have been, as well as what had long been misunderstood. Their repartee is punctuated throughout the ninety-five minute performance by a daft, egocentric pair of ESPN-lite sportscasters who provide additional details on their backstory.

While the audience never sees what's happening on the court, a brilliant video and projection design by Sven Ortel, coupled with Paul Charlier's sound design, enables the audience to see what little action there is in the stands.

Naysayers will charge that there is no action or dramatic tension. Make no mistake, this is more of a star vehicle than one built for major awards. But I for one enjoyed an opportunity to take in these great actresses' back and forth banter -- a sometimes funny and often moving conversation between old friends. Maybe it's wise not only to look at the likes of these legends, but also to listen.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Did Critics Call Deuce A Winner? (May 7, 2007)
Deuce: Opening Night Served (May 6, 2007)
Deuce Tickets Now On Pre-Sale (January 10, 2007)
Polls Close (But Another Opens) (November 10, 2006)
Legendary Acting Ace Angela Lansbury To Star In Deuce (October 31, 2006)
Survey Says.... (October 23, 2006)

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At 07 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Post Script: After having seen the final preview prior to opening night, I must say that I expected the worst.

The blogosphere was buzzing with word that the two actresses were having great difficulty remembering their lines. Perhaps that was true in early previews, but it was most certainly not the case on Saturday night. Yet the unfortunate thing about those preview reviews is that they took on a life of their own.

I certainly do not begrudge my fellow bloggers from posting their stories when they post them. But as I mentioned yesterday in a response to Sarah B, in the era of new media, producers may need to seriously rethink the month-long slogs of previews, especially since negative early word can take hold and spread like a cancer.

I expect to write more on this soon.

At 07 May, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm..great performers transcending mediocre material. Sounds as though you and I had very similar nights in the theater, Steve. (re: Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life) And how interesting that both evenings were penned by the same playwright: Terrence McNally.

At 07 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Chris, The irony was not lost on me when I read your spot-on review of Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life.

If only McNally had really written something truly stirring, it would have made for a night of excellent theatre, both for you in Boston and for me in New York!

At 07 May, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I felt so privileged to be in the company of these two great actresses. I was immediately caught up in the story of their characters, and I loved listening to them talk about their lives. It could easily have ventured into Grumpy Old Men territory and been completely jokey, but it didn't. It was sweet and funny. I liked hearing them talk about the old days, about how things had changed for women, for female athletes, about their hopes and disappointments.

In his review, Ben Brantley quotes a line from Michael Mulheren, the fan, that I'd forgotten about, but I think is really perceptive and poignant. He says, "When we're gone, they're gone, too." It made me think about loved ones, great athletes, performers, heroes from all walks of life, people we admire, who only live on because we remember them.

At one point, one of the egocentric sportscasters says something along the lines of, I wonder what they're talking about now? And Angela Lansbury's character says something completely unexpected and a little off-color. It's funny, because it seems to go against type, against what you think these two sweet, elderly women are thinking about. But it's great, because it is a little shocking and it shows that you can't tell what someone is thinking or what they're like just because you have this stereotypical image of them.

It's interesting, the three plays I saw on my trip to Broadway were each, at their core, about two people having a conversation. The circumstances varied - friends, would-be lovers, adversaries.

In a way, I think that Angela Lansbury and Marian Seldes had the most difficult job of the three, because there isn't a great deal of dramatic tension. How do you portray a simple conversation between old friends and still make it something that other people would want to hear? The play's description mentions "astonishing secrets," but I think that's overstating it.

How often does that happen, where you're just listening to two people talk? Very little in the way of special effects. All they have are their voices. It's storytelling at its most elemental. I was absolutely charmed. I'm probably the only person who feels this way, but I could have sat there and listened to them for another 90 minutes!

At 07 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, The points you've made are excellent.

That line about "when we're gone, they're gone" really hit me over the head.

Fortunately, Angela Lansbury's career has been filled with plenty of television and film to ensure a future in which she'll forever be remembered. Of course, since Seldes has less frequently strayed from the stage, there's not the body of work outside the theatre to inform generations of movie and TV watchers, and that's a shame for them. She's an incredible actress.

I had an opportunity to talk ever so briefly to Seldes after the performance. She indicated to me that the reactions from my audience helped propel them to be even better. I took the opportunity to thank her, not only for this particular evening of entertainment, but also for her life-long contributions to the theatre. She's an incredibly gracious person, and that's saying something given how she's made live theatre a much richer artform.

At 07 May, 2007, Blogger Sarah B. Roberts said...

Bravo to all of you. It's so secret that I'm hopelessly devoted to Angela but I feel more validated since you all seem to see what I saw. Thank you for the thoughtful reviews. I keep forgetting to point out to everybody that this was not originally a Broadway vehicle but meant for the intimate space of Primary Stages but they've made it work for the most part. And Esther, I too thank you for pointing out that great line about "when we're gone, they're gone". Even a light play can have some meaning to someone, somehwere.

At 07 May, 2007, Blogger Sarah B. Roberts said...

Uh, that's not "so secret" but NO secret...

At 07 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Sarah, Thanks for pointing out that this was not originally intended for Broadway. But I'm certainly glad that it's there. And don't you think that Lansbury and Seldes are genuinely enjoying themselves? I think it shows.

At 07 May, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, I saw the play in the early previews, and after I came home, I read about how they were having difficulty remembering their lines. Maybe I was just too much of a novice theatergoer to notice, but I didn't sense that at all.

There was one line that Marian Seldes said that couldn't be heard over the applause, so she repeated it, and one other time she appeared to stumble ever so slightly over a line. But that was it. As a very average audience member without a lot of theatergoing background, they sounded fine!

I also had a chance to meet Angela Lansbury and Marian Seldes at the stage door, and it was thrilling. I didn't get a chance to say much. (You said what I wanted to say, Steve, so thanks!) I do get a bit tongue-tied at these things. But I did manage to gush a bit, and tell them they were wonderful. They're both very gracious and I am so glad that I had a chance to see them on stage.

At 07 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

You're right, Esther. They are both very gracious. I watched how much time each devoted to every person standing by the stage door. Talk about endearing.

At 07 May, 2007, Blogger Sarah B. Roberts said...

Me too Esther! I just didn't see the problems - I'm not that much of a novice or so devoted that I'm blind to fault either. I think some bloggers and chatterati just sit and wait like big spiders to find fault. And Steve, I really do think that the ladies are having a wonderful time. They are so nice at the stage door too. I have been fortunate to meet them on other occasions and they have always been lovely.

At 07 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Sarah, I can't help but agree with you. I go to see the shows that I think I will enjoy. I never go in thinking, "Oh I'm going to eviscerate this for my trophy critique." But I do believe there are some who feel that in order to be taken seriously by others, they must have their daggers ready. It's too bad.

At 28 July, 2007, Blogger buddyindc1 said...

I was thrilled to be in the company of these 2 stage vets --- and totally entered their world for the duration of the thoroughly enjoyable drama. I am sorry to see it close. I imagined that it could be a vehicle for other stage greats in the twilight of their careers. Lansbury and Seldes were true professionals from the opening curtain through their visits on the sidewalk near the stage door.

At 30 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks Buddy in DC for your thoughtful comments.

We didn't realize it at the time, but we probably witnessed the very last Broadway show for Angela Lansbury, who more recently said that after Deuce she's all done. We were blessed to see her.


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