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Sunday, 29 April 2012 22:12

Their cup runneth over

Written by Andrea Braun
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If ever a show were more elevated by its direction/choreography and performances, I haven’t seen it.

I Do! I Do! is a sweet trifle about a 50-year marriage, and it has some very nice music by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt (The Fantasticks guys). It’s based on The Fourposter by Jan de Hartog, a Tony Winner for Best Play of 1951. (Fun trivia: Real-life marrieds Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy played the couple.)

In its turn, I Do, I Do picked up a 1966 Tony for Robert Preston, the original “He” (Michael) and six other nominations, but not one for Book of a Musical (also by Jones) because here is where the piece isn’t so strong. I don’t want to be overly picky; I mean, I believe Danny and Sandy fell in love over the summer, then he blew her off in high school. I can even believe you could have to pay to pee. But I do not believe a play can span the years 1898-1945 and never so much as allude to two world wars, Prohibition, the Great Depression or anything at all outside Michael (Jeffrey Pruett) and Agnes’ (Pamela Reckamp) four walls—wait, does that sound like a “Fantasticks” lyric? It does, and if we can accept it in the spirit of that earlier show which doesn’t even pretend to realism, then it’s easier to enjoy one that was already dated when it was new.

What complicates I Do! I Do! is that it gets into so-called “real” life while ignoring those outside influences: Marriage, children (having them, raising them, saying goodbye to them), midlife crises (his and hers), the empty nest, paying the bills (more on that in a moment) and other aspects of making a home with another person whom you love dearly; well, most of the time. And that part is utterly believable. How Michael affords their standard of living with servants, furs and jewels for his wife on a romance novelist’s paycheck stretches credulity. But, they do turn into Lucy and Ricky when it comes to Agnes’ spending: “An $85 hat?” Michael explodes, having earlier informed her she’s overdrawn the checking account. She defiantly pulls the hat in hiding out on the night he tells her she’s “gone to pot,” he’s in love with a younger woman, and threatens to leave. However, he does not get the reaction he expects, and “Flaming Agnes,” is one of the many high points of the show for Reckamp.

So, willing suspension of disbelief is in order, and from here on, I’m going there because I had the very best time watching Pruett and Reckamp bring us I Do! I Do!. They are helped enormously by director/choreographer Ron Gibbs’ interpretation of the music, moods and movement. The first good decision Gibbs made was the cast. I’m accustomed to seeing Pruett in rather sinister roles—the Leading Player in Pippin and more unsavory characters in New Line productions. But here, he is the very model of a nervous young groom, a pompous and egotistical middle-aged man and a courtly old gentleman. Reckamp is lovely as the (literally) blushing bride, harried as the young mother, frustrated at her own aging, and graceful when she is actually old. Both are excellent at pantomime to interpret the music, and they have a kind of edge that feels just right. Gibbs has taken advantage of their strengths to help them find great chemistry. I may not buy their lifestyle, but I believe in them. All the way through.

There’s a fascinating scene toward the end of the play in which we see the actors sit at dressing tables on either side of the stage and do their own age makeup. It’s just a touch here and there with a wig for Agnes, but it is mesmerizing. And it also demonstrates how strong this show can be in its silent moments. Gibbs knows how to mind the gaps. Most of the play takes place in the first 20 or so years of the marriage, though, so this part transitions us to the last scene when the two are leaving their home—and their fourposter bed—to a new young couple. We might expect some sadness, but it’s not really there. They are ready to move on to their next chapter, and I don’t doubt they will have one.

I particularly enjoyed Pruett in his solo “Father of Bride” (“My daughter is marrying an idiot”); the two of them on the lovely “My Cup Runneth Over,” a ballad of newly-married bliss; and the humorous “Nobody’s Perfect,” and “It’s a Well-Known Fact.” Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship can relate. When their children are teens, they can’t wait for the empty nest (“When the Kids Get Married”) but then haven’t the slightest idea what to do when it really does happen, especially Agnes’s heartbreaking “What is a Woman,” which expresses her dissatisfaction and ever-so-delicately alludes to menopause.

A special shout-out also needs to go to Justin Smolik, musical director and accompanist, who keeps the show moving right along with just a piano that feels like more. He provides a background for the songs, of course, but also for the quick changes that are occasionally necessary when the actors are offstage. But those interludes are brief. This is a physically demanding exercise encompassing 17 numbers, including a long prologue, some dancing (even on the bed) and conversations which range from “kitchy-koo” to “I hate you,” and every mood in-between, and Pruett and Reckamp handle them all with aplomb.

Jane Sullivan’s costumes are lovely, and she gets a wide canvas upon which to paint. The period clothing, especially as the couple prospers, is fun to look at and helps delineate character. The set is, as always, mostly a fourposter bed, but for once Dramatic License’s freakishly deep playing space serves it well by allowing the bed to be upstage and the living area down. Also, a platform has been built up to create an apron, which is much more effective than in previous seasons when the actors were on the floor. Sean Savoie gets the scenic and lighting design credits. Michael Perkins’ sound and Kim Furlow’s (Executive producer and Artistic Director of the company) props and set decoration add to the fun, even if some of the baby clothes looked a bit new.

I Do! I Do! is well worth a couple of hours of your time, and I bet you’ll be happier when you left that when you came in. I hope you’ll get to meet Michael and Agnes (or “He” and “She”) because you’ll not just be seeing a couple of fine performances, but you’ll have a lot of fun finding yourself and your significant other in these memorable characters.

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