At home I have a souvenir program from the 1968 tour of I Do! I Do!. In Rochester, New York, that year, my parents saw Broadway greats Robert Preston and Mary Martin in Tom Jones’and Harvey Schmidt’s chronicle of a lengthy, traditional, upper-middle class marriage. It isn’t fair, in a small theater production, to expect luminous performances of the kind that Preston and Martin provided. However, the principals in Infinity Theatre Company’s production, talented and polished regional theater veterans Daniella Dalli and Craig Laurie, do their best to put the show across. Both actors, to the evident appreciation of the audience, displayed, clear, pleasing voices; moved fluidly; and worked hard to make their characters interesting and sympathetic.
In this respect, Laurie had the greater challenge, since his character, Michael, is written as an egotistical, self-absorbed jerk, especially in the first act. Think Don Draper, only less sophisticated. Michael reaches the peak of his misogyny in “A Well-Known Fact,” in which he comments that, in their 40s, men get sexier and women “go to pot.” This sort of line could still get laughs in 60s shows, but it is rather embarrassing nowadays. The character, and Laurie’s performance, mellow in the second act, to the point where he actually becomes sensitive enough to his wife’s feelings to give her a couple meaningful presents.
Agnes carries her own bundle of stereotypical traits, notably a penchant for self-medicating with excessive purchases of clothes and jewelry. But of the two, she shows the greater spirit, particularly in her fantasy of a wilder, post-marital life (“Flaming Agnes”). Dalli brings an echo of the elfin Mary Martin persona to the role, as well as some genuine anger in the protracted quarrel scene (“Nobody’s Perfect”). Dalli’s expression of her character’s sense of emptiness following the departure of her children (“What is a Woman?”) allows Agnes to achieve a quiet dignity. The actors combine sweetly in the score’s most memorable song, “My Cup Runneth Over.”
The story touches a wide range of sitcom and domestic drama clichés, taking the couple through their wedding, nervous nuptial night, advent of children, his mid-life crisis, an affair, a threat of divorce, a rapid-fire reconciliation, the marriage of their children, empty nest syndrome, her mid-life crisis, another threat of divorce, another rapid-fire reconciliation, and old age. It’s all very schematic. The challenge for the actors is to present these unsurprising developments in a way that retains a certain old-fashioned charm, and Dalli and Laurie are able to surmount the limitations of the material to a considerable extent.
Director Tina Marie Casamento made good use of some of the traditional cute bits in the production, such as a clothesline stretched across the stage and having Agnes ride a child’s tricycle. She and the actors maintain a smart pace as a 50-year relationship is condensed into the 2+ hours of the show, the only noticeable lull being just prior to the final scene, when the actors apply aging makeup at tables that are wheeled onto the stage.
Paul Campbell provides piano accompaniment. He is excellent technically, and his musicality makes a significant contribution to the production.
I Do! I Do!
Closes August 3, 2014
Infinity Theatre at
CTA Theatre Complex
1661 Bay Head Road Annapolis
2 hours, 20 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $19 – $35; $24-40 at the door
Paul Tate DePoo III’s set design is rigorously symmetrical. Behind the central four-poster bed is a pentagonal form with symmetrical panels. On either side of the bed are identical tables with identical lamps. There are parallel wardrobes on either side of the bed. On stage left and stage right are identical stairways with identical rails, flanked by identical wood-paneled walls with identical wall lamps. Straight lines are the dominant motif. It isn’t clear whether the formal look of the design is simply a matter of the designer’s esthetic preference or whether it may have been intended as a reflection of the rigidity of the concept of marriage embedded in the script.
The lighting resources at the Children’s Theatre of Annapolis, where Infinity Theatre Company holds its performances, appear sparse, forcing designer Jimmy Lawlor to rely on extensive use of follow spots. The most curious feature of the lighting design concerns the panels in the pentagon behind the bed, which individually light up in seemingly random sequences from time to time. Tristan Raines’ costumes are straightforward and period-appropriate, the nicest piece being Agnes’ glittery pants in “Flaming Agnes.”
The original version of I Do! I Do! portrayed a marriage spanning 1895-1945. Perhaps the dated-ness of the script inclines directors to attempt to update the story. Casamento explained in her program note that she conceived the action of the show as occurring from 1956-2014, rather than the original 1895-1945. A year ago, American Century Theater in Arlington presented an even more radical updating, a four-actor version involving gay and lesbian as well as straight couples. Given the style of marriage Schmidt and Jones portrayed, and the characters’ attitudes toward their relationship and one another, I suspect it might be better to leave I Do! I Do! as a period piece, picturing life and marriage as it might have been for people in the protagonists’ circumstances in the first half of the 20th century.
I Do! I Do! Book and lyrics: Tom Jones. Music: Harvey Schmidt . Director: Tina Marie Casamento . Music Director: David Libby. Featuring Daniella Dalli (Agnes) and Craig Laurie (Michael). Scenic designer: Paul Tate DePoo III. Costume designer: Tristan Raines. Lighting designer: Jimmy Lawlor . Pianist: Paul Campbell . Produced by Infinity Theatre . Reviewed by Robert Ashby.
— Guest writer Robert Ashby is a freelance arts journalist and performer.