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Let's Hear it for the Non-Divas: Angela and Jane!

33Variations It's now commonplace to expect a serious actor-cum-star to focus on his role, not his celebrity status.

Still, there's something admirable about such icons as Jane Fonda and Angela Lansbury refusing to upstage any other actor in 33 Variations and Blithe Spirit, respectively.

It would be easy for Lansbury to strut about considering her showy role as a colorfully eccentric medium given to tippling. But she doesn't.

For Fonda it's a bit more difficult to take over. After all, she's playing an ailing academic and emotionally withholding woman. It's a restrained character. Nonetheless, a less generous actor might make her presence more aggressively felt.

It's a further tribute to their professionalism that while their name recognition is drawing crowds, the two actors play it cool whether their audiences are coming to gawk and/or applaud.

In that regard Lansbury probably has it easier. She is adored as a stage and screen veteran—from her gigs in The Manchurian Candidate to Sweeney Todd to Murder, She Wrote. Who can forget that wonderful old biddy (mystery writer-turned-sleuth) Jessica Fletcher? Lansbury's unblemished personal reputation doesn't hurt and neither does her advanced age. If she flubs a line, it's overlooked. Audiences mostly come to celebrate her.

AngelaLansbury Fonda is a more complicated case. Though she has her admirers, she also has detractors. Members of both camps may arrive at the theatre rubber necking. Thanks to her stance during the Vietnam War she's still a source of controversy; also a curiosity as a woman who specializes in self-reinvention—from her sexpot Barbarella persona to political activist to sleek wife of network mogul.

And, let's not overlook her admissions of an eating disorder, her years as a fitness guru, and her own well-preserved looks. Has she had cosmetic surgery or hasn't she? Even her acting career lends itself to unkind speculation. She was at the top of her game in such films as Klute and They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

But those flicks were decades ago and she hasn't appeared on a Broadway stage in 46 years. It's not an unreasonable question: can she act anymore? Her reviews have indeed been mixed. Several critics say she appears nervous and/or brittle and then reluctantly concede she uses her discomfort to flesh out her character.

It's tainted praise. Nevertheless she holds her own up there with dignity and grace.

And when the Tony nominations are announced Fonda will probably be nominated as best leading actress. Lansbury will get her nom as best supporting actress. Lansbury is a more likely winner, though Fonda may pull an upset.

Regrettably, there are no prizes for Best Non-Diva. Check out the contest in that imagined category: Jane vs. Angela. Now, that would be horse race worth watching.

-- Simi Horwitz  

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