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Aging Well
By Ralph Hammann

I Do! I Do!

Book and lyrics by Tom Jones, music by Harvey Schmidt, directed by Sarah Gurfield Berkshire Theatre Festival at the Unicorn Theatre, through June 24

Jan de Hartog’s 1951 play about 50 years of marriage, The Fourposter, is the basis for Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s musical two-seater, a vehicle for a gifted actor and actress to drive through a winding range of emotional highs and lows. Charmingly dated, the material works well as a period play that begins in 1898 and is set in and around the titular bed of Agnes and Michael. To Hartog’s bittersweet construction, Jones and Schmidt have added some smart and some winsome songs that manage to carry us through those that are less so. It falls upon the actors to supply the real fuel, however.

>From their voices on the Broadway album, one can imagine the power and fun that Robert Preston (who won a Tony as Michael) and Mary Martin brought to this single-chamber piece. Like its source material, which featured no less dynamic duos than Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy and Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer, I Do! I Do! demands both size and delicately honed craft to navigate the couples’ changing feelings and ages.

Director Sarah Gurfield has generally provided a clever roadmap of blocking and business to keep matters moving on designer Audra Avery’s lively and charming art nouveau set, which sometimes seems a third star of the play. And Sarah Kauffman brings an appealing presence and nuanced voice to Agnes, who begins as an innocent, bears two offstage children, collides with disillusion, explores her seductiveness, and regains her innocence in her golden years. It’s a performance that is never less than adept and often more than beguiling. That she doesn’t make a fully believable transition into old age has less to do with Kauffman’s talent than her youth and some particularly amateurish smears of makeup meant to be age lines.

At the outset, Gary Patent is an enormously likable Michael, and with the exception of some ill-advised clowning, he is comfortable and engaging in the play’s earlier light moments. But as the play turns darker and threatens to become more a matter of “Adieu, Adieu,” Parent’s piping voice wears out its earlier welcome. While it is less a problem in song, especially when aided by Kauffman, some two hours of it—even intermittently—is too much.

Mixed as it may be, it is still a pleasure to hear a musical that has smatterings of depth and that offers variety in its actual tunes as opposed to the incessant monotony of much of today’s new works. As well, two hours spent with Avery’s rhythmic curvilinear confection of a set and Kauffman’s similarly sweet attributes isn’t bad either.

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