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A CurtainUp Review
The Fourposter

This is a very sad occasion. Your youth is over.— Michael, who, though deleriously happy to be married to Agnes, reflects on this being a critical marker in their lives.
The Fourposter
Todd Weeks and Jessica Dickey in The Fourposter (Photo: Suzi Sadler)
To paraphrase the above occasion, "It's a very sad occasion when a play that ran for over 632 performances on Broadway, nabbed a Best Play Tony for Jan de Hartog and Best Direction for Jose Ferrer, has failed to pass the test of time." It's not just that it's dated. The fact that the play begins with two sexually innocent Victorians overcoming the confusion and embarrassment of consummating their marriage in their fourposter bed — a family heirloom that symbolizes marital solidity — might well give it enought quaint charm to resonate with today's much divorced, more sexually sophisticated audiences. For sure, a pleasant respite from the more acrimonious and modern portrait of a marriage than Stephen Belber's Fifty Words (Fifty Words).

Thanks to astute direction and casting, the Keen Company has successfully tapped into similarly dated hits like Tea and Sympathy (review). But reviving these plays which, besides being dated were associated big box office stars, demands performances that can compete with the stars of the original productions and subsequent films. In the case of The Fourposter that meant Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn on stage, Lily Palmer and Rex Harrison in the movie, not to mention Mary Martin and Robert Preston in the Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt musical spinoff, I Do, I Do. A less stellar couple than Palmer and Harrison, who were like Cronyn and Tandy actually married, might not have survived the filmscript's over-sentimentalized ending.

Heidi Armbruster and Dan McCabe, while not big box office names, were more than up to handling the delicate relationship in the Keen's Tea and Sympathy, and director Jonathan Silverstein managed to convey the story's timeless aspects despite shifting mores and attitudes. Unfortunately, the just opened revival of The Fourposter can't boast similar riches.

Jessica Dickey and Todd Weeks are competent actors, but they fail to project that special chemistry needed to bring out the things only hinted at in its six boudoir interludes. Dickey is too shrill during the first night scene though she does inhabit the part more fully as the marriage moves through its high and low point. Weeks also grows into the part of the unbearably demanding, self-absorbed but loving Michael. It's too bad that Dickey and Weeks move through the crises and reconciliations of their 35-year marriage without really digging between the mannered surface of these particular characters.

Ultimately, the blame for this revival's failing to be either funny or touching must be borne by the director. I've never seen less need for an intermission —let alone two— than in this single set play. If Blake Lawrence didn't trust the audience to catch the references to the passing of time from scene to scene, a simple screen with the time would perhaps have helped to speed up the excrutiatingly slow pace.

Instead of winding things down in ninety minutes, Lawrence treats the audience to between scenes concerts of vaudeville songs like "Cuddle Up a Little Closer, Lovey Mine", "Waiting for a Certain Girl" and "The Golden Wedding." Nice music, but Lawrence might have been wiser to consider reviving I Do, I Do, the musical which also has an economical cast of two but which features twenty songs, including the charming " My Cup Runneth Over" and "Together Forever" Less dependent on stars than The Fourposter, it's revived more often and more successfully (to wit, this charming regional production we reviewed some summers ago--I Do, I Do ).

I've been keen on the Keen in the past, but found this a keenly disappointing start-up for their season. Here's hoping their next up production of Beasley's Christmas Party by Booth Tarkington, the auther of The Magnificent Ambersons, will put them back on track.

The Fourposter
By Jan de Hartog
Directed by Blake Lawrence
Cast: Todd Weeks and Jessica Dickey
Sets: Sandra Goldmark
Costumes: Theresa Squire
Lighting Josh Bradford
Sound: Jill BC DuBoff
Fight ChoreographerPaul Molnar
Stage Manager: Jess Johnston
Running Time: 100 minutes, with 2 intermissions
The Keen Company at Clurman Theater, Theater Row on W. 42nd Street (212) 279-4200
From 10/07/08; opening 10/19/08; closing 11/22/08.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer October 16th
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