Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Perfect Form(ula), Bitter Outcome

"Deuce" at the Music Box Theatre, April 24, 2007

It has all the pieces one needs for a smash. Two award-winning leading actresses, an award-winning director and an award-winning author with 11 Tony wins, 11 Tony nominations, 10 Drama Desk Awards, 14 Drama Desk nominations. How could it go wrong?

Sadly, and much to the pain of theatrical producers, there is no formula to stage a hit on Broadway. The producers of "Deuce" certainly had the right parts of what successful shows have.

Sadly, too, there is no hit here.

Mr. McNally, who has displayed such brilliance in the past with the books for the musicals "Ragtime" and "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and the plays "Master Class" and "Love, Valour, Compassion" seems to have phoned this one in. Even his "Some Men" currently running at Second Stages is stronger than this effort. His tale of former tennis doubles partners meeting for what may be the last time in their lives never rises above mildly amusing and occasionally descends into cheap jokes and bathroom humor. He pulls from his regular bag of tricks, expository monologues in the middle of the action from featured characters, asides and observations from peripheral characters, as well as a pair of inane commentators.

Sometimes a particularly talented cast can keep a play from collapsing from its lack of structure. Angela Lansbury and Marian Seldes would certainly seem to be two actors up to that task, and yet, they both display their own weaknesses. At the top of that list is stumbling over lines. This was my first opportunity to have seen either of these fine actors in a live performance. There has been a certain amount of buzz about the problems with the show. I was hopeful that by the time I attended that many of this issues would be solved.

They weren't.

And sadder still, most of the negative buzz referred to Ms. Lansbury's missing lines while Ms. Seldes was steadfast holding up her side of the show, supporting Ms. Lansbury as best she could. Tonight it was Ms. Seldes that missed the first of many of her own lines. Ms. Lansbury matched her in that category. When one is pulling so hard for performers to do well, it can be difficult to observe characterization. A weak script does little to help.

There is a line near the end of the play which has been mentioned in several other blogs. "We shall not see the likes of these two again." (paraphrased) It was very obviously a larger statement about the two women than just an observation of the two characters. And, he's right.

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