New York City Theater
Music Box Theater
To an outsider, the sight of people swiveling their heads back and forth, back and forth to watch a tennis match might seem ludicrous. Obviously, it’s red meat to an aficionado. Two such fans are at the heart of Terrence McNally’s dullsville “Deuce.”
Two old-time players are watching a finals match before being introduced to the crowd and lauded as the champions they were. While eyeing the ball, they reminisce about their marriages and affairs, about their partnership, the current state of tennis, aging, feminism, accolades won and opportunities lost. Some of what they say is amusing, but more sounds like scraps from an attic trunk.
It helps that the two tennis champs are acted by a pair of theatrical champs. In an unexpected bit of reverse casting, Marian Seldes is the Park Avenue-reared Midge Barker, while Angela Lansbury is the lower-class Leona Mullen, allowing her to utter merry obscenities.
McNally throws in a few other roles. Michael Mulhern is billed as An Admirer who comments on the characters, though he is talking as much about the stars as their characters when he says, “You will not see their likes again.” Joanna P. Adler and Brian Haley fill in as annoying broadcasters.
The playwright makes points about stasis and how divas transcend that state. Being at deuce too long is debilitating because it doesn’t progress, yet, somehow, the stalemate keeps the adrenaline going. Says Leona, “I hate deuce; it’s so indecisive.” Midge counters with “I always find deuce rather exciting.”
Leona wins. Even in the hands of expert director Michael Blakemore, “Deuce” is unexciting. But, then, there’s Lansbury giving an acerbic, expert performance and Seldes matching her in a less showy role. Pleasurable though that is, however, it is not enough to win the game.
David A. Rosenberg
May 10, 2007