The year 2017 in theater has given us so many things. Among them: a since-disgraced Kevin Spacey playing the notorious, titular lawyer in Clarence Darrow, staged in Arthur Ashe Stadium after the US Open, and the efficiently titled The Rafa Play, which serves up a Rafael Nadal concept coming out of left field.
In light of tennis having a mini-moment on New York stages, consider this roundup of some of past years' tennis-themed or at least tennis-flecked shows both on and off Broadway.
Featuring a then–81-year-old legend, Angela Lansbury (now 92 and prone to verbal unforced errors), and a 78-year-old Marian Seldes (86 when she passed in 2014) as famous former doubles partners, Deuce arrived in 2007 at New York's Music Box Theater.
It was directed by heralded wordsmith Terrence McNally, of Ragtime and more fame.
Music Box Theatre during the run of Terence McNally's play Deuce (2007) starring Marian Seldes and Angela Lansbury. pic.twitter.com/X3pxXhVTSE— Angela Lansbury News (@_AngelaLansbury) August 23, 2015
New York Times critic Ben Brantley dismantled the show, terming it "a flimsy excuse for a comedy." Even so, Lansbury went on to be nominated that year for another Tony; though she didn't win. Her performance prompted even Brantley to say, "Few stars can make a banquet out of table scraps as Ms. Lansbury does."
Playbill for Broadway play Deuce (2007) starring Marian Seldes and Angela Lansbury in her Tony Awards nominated role. pic.twitter.com/I7Sp51Q9fr— Angela Lansbury News (@_AngelaLansbury) August 24, 2013
The Last Match, 2017
The Times' Brantley returns on this list with his critique of The Last Match, saying that the play "succumbs early to the hypnotic, adrenaline-draining rhythms of a gentle, endless practice rally." Regardless of what one critic says, this show has buzz aplenty, as delivered by playwright Anna Ziegler, who truly broke a leg on opening night. She found herself hiking around in a boot when her players took a lesson from Mary Carillo in Flushing Meadows.
Staged at the Laura Pels Theater, The Last Match stars Wilson Bethel (Tim) and Alex Mickiewicz (Sergei) as a thirty-something, all-American star and a relative-upstart Russian, respectively in this fictional US Open semifinal showdown.
The play reflects on, among other matters, how we as non-famous types treat sports stars as symbols, foisting the hopes of our own lives upon them and considering their losses to be ours as well. Mortality also factors into Last Match's concepts, so by all means, have at it through Christmas Eve. After all, you're in good hands–co-lead Bethel once hoped to turn pro as an up-and-coming player.
Scenes from Court Life, or The Whipping Boy and His Prince, 2016
Put on at University Theatre by Yale Repertory Theatre, this show imagines the political and athletic jousting (with sticks) between two famous brothers, Jeb and George W. Bush. Jeb attended the University of Texas in Austin, competing on its varsity tennis team in 1973. George actually went to Yale but, as sports were concerned, favored rugby.
"The cost of dynastic privilege" was at play in this script by Sarah Ruhl, which likely focuses most loosely on tennis itself of all the shows noted here. Said Ruhl of her show, "While researching the Bush dynasty, I realized tennis is such a big part of their lives and a wonderful metaphor for family competition and sibling rivalry."
A public-service legacy was central to this piece, though the players seem to have had a ball, as evidenced by the Hartford Courant's review, which included, "The sound design by Shane Rettig is just as tricky: soundtracking everything from a tennis game to a decapitation."
It's an extended scene early in the show that tennis ties into most closely, as this Jeb and George engage in a game of doubles against–who else?—their parents.
Don't You F—ing Say a Word, 2016
Andy Bragen's play, staged at 59E59 Theaters, delivered a hilariously scathing take on a side of human nature that all too many of us possess. Two pals, played by Michael Braun and Bhavesh Patel, enjoy a game of friendly-fire tennis–until they don't.
The show's title stems from what one of the fellows says to the other when he knows he's about to utter a celebratory shout in their match, and they head to their corners from there, and to their significant others, played by Jennifer Lim and Jeanine Serralles.
Bragen penned this play after a real-life encounter in which he and a friend left the court scorched.
"Twenty minutes later he called me up, and he was sheepish, and I was sheepish,' Bragen told the New York Times. "We both had talked to our girlfriends, who said, 'What’s wrong with you?'"
So it goes for Brian (Patel) and Russ (Braun), two buddies locked in perpetual quasi-combat while their companions seek to sort out "what makes them tick."
An Upset, 2008
"Tennis is a lonely sport, and [David] Auburn’s script touches on the players’ vulnerabilities," said Ryan Sweeney, a former college tennis player and producer/star of An Upset, revived in 2016 at 99 Bowery in New York.
The one-act play centers on locker-room drama playing out between an aging American star and a young Romanian over a series of three matches.
"I wrote this at a time I was watching tennis obsessively," Auburn offered to the Times in 2016, noting that writing tennis-centric scenes came organically to him. As for why he set the show in a locker room: "That's where all the tension comes out."
Follow Jon on Twitter @jonscott9.
Welcome back Novak, Roger and Serena on Tennis Channel and Tennis Channel Plus
Friday, December 29: Novak Djokovic begins his comeback at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi against either Roberto Bautista Agut or Andrey Rublev.
Not before 10:00 a.m. ET LIVE on Tennis Channel Plus. GET PLUS NOW at tnns.ch/TCPlus
Saturday, December 30: Roger Federer looks to continue his remarkable resurgence at the Hopman Cup in Perth in singles and mixed doubles competition.
4:30 a.m ET LIVE on Tennis Channel Plus. GET PLUS NOW at tnns.ch/TCPlus
And last but not least...
Saturday, December 30: Serena Williams returns at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, in her first match since the birth of her first child, against the 2017 French Open champion, Jelena Ostapenko.
8:00 a.m ET LIVE on Tennis Channel. Additional airings at 2:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. ET.