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Deuce: Matchless

In a tennis match, the term "deuce" refers to a particular instance when the score is tied and in order to win a game one player must win two points in a row.  If the opponents alternate winning points they keep playing and deuce can theoretically go on forever.

You know where I'm going with this, don'tcha?

Less than two months ago I was thoroughly enchanted with Terrence McNally's then-latest entry, Some Men, so I won't go so far as to say that his new one, Deuce, an uncharacteristically weak and pointless play, seems to goes on forever, but the 90 minute chat between Marian Seldes and Angela Lansbury, with special guest appearances by the c-word and the f-word, is bafflingly void of plot, conflict, tension, character, humor and any reasonable amount of entertainment value beyond watching two great ladies of the stage practice their craft in a vehicle so unchallenging they even get to sit for nearly all the hour and a half.

In theory they're playing Midge Barker and Leona Mullen, a doubles team that dominated the game in their youth, attending a U.S. Open match before a brief ceremony which will honor them afterwards, but really, McNally gives us nothing to distract us from the fact that we're watching Marian Seldes and Angela Lansbury and there's little director Michael Blakemore can do except keep the proceedings brisk.

They talk of their past triumphs and one particularly gnawing failure.  They talk of the lives they've led after retiring.  They talk of how the game of tennis has changed, complain about the way players grunt whenever they return a volley and try and figure out which ones are lesbians.  It's occasionally funny – after all these are two possessors of impeccably crisp comic timing – but rarely interesting.

Situated above the two stars is an annoying and fairly inept pair of sportscasters played by the blameless Joanna P. Adler and Brian Haley.  They give the grand ladies a break every so often to tell us fascinating facts like how back in the day they used to play for the love of the game.

Video and projection images by Sven Ortel flash crowds of fans onto Peter J. Davison's grandstand set with sound designer Paul Charlier supplying the cheers.  It looks and sounds creepy and forced.

Michael Mulheren plays a character known only as "An Admirer" who gushes over the two ladies while brandishing an autograph book.  By the end of the play he's telling us, "Look at them.  You will not see their likes again."  And if the audience chooses to nod and applaud in agreement, it's doubtful many of them are thinking of tennis or the numerous major tournaments won by Barker and Mullen.  Naw, the only victories that matter here are Mame, A Delicate Balance, Gypsy, Deathtrap, Sweeney Todd, Three Tall Women...

Photos of Marian Seldes and Angela Lansbury by Joan Marcus

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From This Author Michael Dale