Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July, 2001
What a delightful show! I cannot think of a happier way to spend the evening than up at Oldcastle in the company of Trudi Possey as Agnes and Richard Howe as Michael as they sprint through Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's 1966 musical on married life.
Based on an even earlier work, The Fourposter by Jan de Hartog, one might expect I Do! I Do! to be somewhat dated. On their wedding night Michael adjusts the gas lamps, for instance, but this is not a show about how such minor details as automobiles, electricity, mass communication has effected human relations. And the surprising conclusion one comes to is that they really haven't affected marriage at all. The issues Agnes and Michael face in the course of their 50 years together are about the same as the ones you and I face today. If we were to write this show today Agnes would probably work outside the home, but there are still plenty of marriages which survive on one income, and Agnes's sense of despair and uselessness after the children marry and leave home is one that many parents' experience today. Now we even have a term for it - Empty Nest Syndrome.
I Do! I Do! is about the bizarre fact that men and women make a promise to stay Together, Forever and then attempt to keep it. There is nothing easy about the state of marriage, and yet it seems to be one on which homo sapiens thrive. We know that married men and women live longer, happier, healthier lives. Marriage, or an estate similar, is now sought legally by homosexual as well as heterosexual couples.
So, the plot here is pretty simple. We meet 24 year old Agnes and 26 year old Michael on their wedding day and we leave them on the day they leave the house in which they have spent 50 years of marriage and raised two children. In between we witness the ups and downs of their relationship - one in which love, not passion or power but just plain old fashioned love born of commitment, triumphs again and again.
Howe and Possey are average looking middle-aged actors. Unlike Mary Martin and Robert Preston, who originated the roles on Broadway, their singing and dancing talents are not so awesome that we cannot relate. This adds to their believability as a couple and as just plain folks. They come across as a real married couple who happen to be relating their thoughts to us in song. They make being on stage and performing for two and a half hours straight look easy, which it is definitely not!
Jones and Schmidt, best known for the show-that-will-not-close The Fantasticks as well as 110 In the Shade with which Oldcastle had a great success some years back, have created gem of a chamber musical. Howe and Possey are Oldcastle regulars, as is scenic designer Kenneth Mooney, and they obviously work well as a team with director Eric Peterson. Mooney has designed a handsome and functional set where the pivotal marriage bed sits in the midst of a circular platform which is echoed by a circular lighting grid above - obviously symbolizing the two wedding rings which bind Agnes and Michael together.
Joshua S. Clayton, Jeremy Clayton, and Ryan McVeigh ably provide the music and musical direction. Partially hidden by a white, semi-circular scrim, it is nice to see a musical where the musicians are not hidden away like some dirty secret. Yes, it takes real people to make those sounds, and they are a vital part of the performance!
I am so glad to see Oldcastle get it right with this show. I hope the dismal start to their 2001 season with Civil Union and Panache hasn't scared off too many of their regular customers. They are following I Do! I Do! with another gem of a small cast musical Forever Plaid. If they can nail that show too I will stop fretting so much about the long term viability of the company.
I Do! I Do! runs through August 4 at the Oldcastle Theatre Company (802-447-0564), housed at the Bennington Center for the Arts at the junction of VT Rt. 9 and Gypsy Lane in Bennington. The show runs two hours and twenty minutes with one intermission. It is suitable for all ages.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2001