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The Fourposter

The Keen Company offers a bland revival of Jan de Hartog's Tony Award-winning two-hander about marriage. logo
Jessica Dickey and Todd Weeks
in The Fourposter
(© Suzi Sadler)
The fact that Jan de Hartog's six-scene valentine to marriage, The Fourposter, which is being revived now by the Keen Company under Blake Johnson's direction, won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1952 might lead a wide-eyed and jaw-dropped observer to believe that season must have been embarrassingly deficient in vital new work. This 75-minute two-hander is so featherweight that it would have been considered retrograde had it shown up as segments on the 1970s television series Love American-Style. Today, it simply disappears like an exhaled breath.

The play, which spans the years 1890 to 1925, covers Michael and Agnes (Todd Weeks and Jessica Dickey) from being virginal newlyweds through advancing into still-vigorous middle age. And along they way, this everycouple bicker virtually non-stop with a consistent shrillness.

Among the bones of Michael and Agnes' constant contentions are worries about the imminent arrival of a first-born, Michael's extra-marital dalliance, first-born son Robert's possible bourbon-drinking habit, and Agnes' desire to quit the marriage in a paroxysm of wishful independence. In the final scenelet, when they're moving from their empty nest, they argue over whether to leave for the new owners a pillow preaching the legend "God is Love." Agnes insists it should remain under the covers on the fourposter bed that's served as the emblem of their blemished union -- the continuation of which no audience member will ever have doubted.

In imagining Michael and Agnes, de Hartog -- ultimately a sentimentalist -- hasn't made them especially likable. Agnes is a recognizable coping wife and mother but is short on other appealing personality traits. Her 1913 suffragist moment is peculiarly tepid. Michael comes across as what Agnes calls him: "a pompous ass." A budding writer early on, he eventually produces a best-seller. Although Weeks and Dickey remain energetic and committed throughout the piece, he only finds and imparts Michael's sympathetic attributes in the more subdued final act, and she -- though visually alluring -- undercuts Agnes by pitching her voice a touch too high.

Set designer Sandra Goldmark finds a few occasions to spruce up the couple's bedroom. Costume designer Theresa Squire does nicely by Agnes' wardrobe and has a few jokes on Michael's pompous-ass ensembles, notably a top hat that never quite sits with any dash. Best of all, sound designer Jill BC DuBoff has shuffled through grainy disks from the 35-year period under examination and has retrieved items like a rendition of "Cuddle Up a Little Closer" from the 1908 Otto Harbach-Karl Hoschna-Charles Dickson tuner, Three Twins. Actually, it's the closest thing most patrons will want to cuddle up to in this bland revival.

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