Monday, August 20, 2007

Thanks for the Memories

Marian Seldes and Angela Lansbury in Deuce

I'm so glad I had a chance to catch up with Angela Lansbury and Marian Seldes before Deuce bid goodbye to Broadway on Sunday. I don't know how much more theater these two grande dames have left in them -- Lansbury is 81 and Seldes turns 79 on Thursday -- but if that's their last hurrah, I think they left their fans satisfied.

So many critics focused on the play's weaknesses -- and there are quite a few. But who cares? At this stage in their careers I'm not sure audiences would have wanted these two to lose themselves in characters as much as play variations on their personas -- or at least what we perceive their personas to be. Angela can say so much with just her eyes, and the way Marian moves her long, gangly body, even when she's just shrugging, is graceful and memorable.

I believe the last line of the play, uttered by a fan of their tennis pro characters, is "Really look at them. You will never see their likes again." I know I'm a sap, but at that point I was fighting back tears. Until then, I'd been so concerned with just finding time to see the show before it closed that I hadn't really thought about what these two actresses meant to me and how far back my "history" with them goes.

I first saw Marian Seldes onstage in the Broadway production of Deathtrap. The year was 1981, and by then she'd been doing the play for three years and had never missed a performance. Since then I've seen her play a number of larger-than-life characters in Broadway and Off-Broadway shows that were deserving of her talent (Three Tall Women, The Torch-Bearers, The Play About the Baby) and not so deserving (Ivanov, 45 Seconds From Broadway). I even had the pleasure of "escorting" her to a Drama Desk cocktail party, not because we were old acquaintances but because we happened to arrive at the hotel at the same time, and she looked a bit lost, so I helped her find where the festivities were.

Angela Lansbury, on the other hand, I'd never seen onstage before, but she was such a familiar face to me from all her wonderful filmed and recorded work that it felt like I was in the presence of an old friend. I had just started going to Saturday matinees with my mother in the early '80s when she went to Hollywood to do Murder, She Wrote, a show that was much loved in the Snyder/Kern household during my teen years. (Last week my mother and I were going through some of my late grandfather's old things. He didn't save much, but we found a local TV guide from the Sunday paper with Angela Lansbury on the cover that he's kept.)

Besides the 12-year run of Murder, She Wrote, I spent a considerable chunk of the '80s listening to her on the Mame and Sweeney Todd cast albums -- not to mention watching the videotaped performance of Sweeney Tood featuring her and George Hearn.

So thanks for the memories, ladies. I hold out hope that Deuce will not be the last of them.


SarahB said...

Indeed! said...

Nicely said, Diane.

I heard Ms. Seldes interviewed on XM radio a little while back. What a classy and humble woman.

And the Tony's will never be the same w/o Ms. Lansbury at the helm.