Do! I Do!
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.
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
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.