Angela Lansbury graces the stage

You probably know her best as Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote or Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, but Angela Lansbury is especially beloved among theatergoers. She’s won four Tony awards for Best Actress in a Musical, in roles ranging from the original Mame to the perfectly pathological Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd (Patti LuPone should be ashamed). Now, at 81, Lansbury is back for a (presumably) last turn on the boards, in Deuce. And guess whose name was on the list when the Tony Award nominations were announced yesterday?

In Deuce, Lansbury and Marian Seldes are retired doubles players who reminisce about their tennis careers and lament the lack of passion in today’s players. If that doesn’t really seem like enough to hang an entire show on, that’s because it’s not. The reviews have been scathing, but not toward Lansbury and Seldes — the vitriol is direct at Terrence McNally, who seems to have forgotten that (as Tony Soprano says) "remember when" is the lowest form of conversation. Or, as The New York Times said,

… the true tension in “Deuce” arises from the fight between two valiant, vibrant actresses against a swamp of a play that keeps trying to suck the life out of them.

Still, you can’t help but root for Lansbury, who makes her way through the bramble of hokey, tin-eared lines with all the aplomb she’s known for. About halfway through, I found myself thinking, "This isn’t very good. But that’s Angela Lansbury up there!" Maybe that doesn’t seem like enough to hang an entire show on either, but it’s enough to keep you entertained. And it’s hard to put a price on the twisted pleasure of hearing Lansbury drop F bombs and snarl the C word — and talk about lesbians in the locker rooms. (After all, the play is about tennis.)

For the complete list of Tony nominees, including Vanessa Redgrave, Julie White and Christine Ebersole, see the official Tonys site.