By admin on Oct 20, 2008 | In ATW Reviews
Spanning 35 years of a couple's marriage, Jan De Hartog's The Fourposter takes audiences into the bedroom of Michael (Todd Weeks) and Agnes (Jessica Dickey), where the couple's commitment to one another is tested time and again. Long a staple of community theaters, and a vehicle for star couples – such as Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy who played the roles originally on Broadway – "Fourposter" has the ability to both charm and touch with its depiction of a couple's journey from the late nineteenth century into the first quarter of the twentieth. In director Blake Lawrence's heavy-handed production for the Keen Company which opened last night on Theatre Row, though, "Fourposter" feels more like a period depiction of a marriage headed toward dissolution than a portrait of a love that has what it takes to withstand the tests of both time and commitment.
The first of the play's six scenes centers on the couple's wedding night. Both are tipsy from their consumption of champagne at the reception and both are nervous. The combination of liquor and emotion starts the couple's first set-to, and from there, his insecurities, which alternate with his grandiosity, meet head-on time and again with her pragmatism, which is also moderated by an equal level of vulnerability. He's jealous of the pending birth of their first child. She frets about what her life has meant and wonders if she has fulfilled her potential as a woman, rather as daughter, wife and mother. Along the way, there are infidelities, successes and troubles with children.
Theoretically, it's a sepia-tinted portrait of a marriage that's grounded by not only deep love, but also general compatibility. Unfortunately, given Weeks' perpetually petulant and overly childish portrayal of Michael, a man who ultimately achieves acclaim as a popular novelist, and Dickey's often shrill turn as Agnes, it's difficult to see much more than two people who are, from the outset, ill-suited to one another. As the characters age, Dickey's performance ultimately modulates and one begins to see Agnes' inherent warmth and affection for Michael, and late in the play, there's even a glimpse of the genuine affection that has held the couple together. Through the bulk of the piece, though, it feels almost as if one has dropped in on early incarnations of George and Martha from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
The passage of time for the characters is made abundantly clear by several of the production's physical elements. Slight changes, such as new bed linens and the addition of a sleek ottoman, in the décor of scenic designer Sandra Goldmark's somewhat cold recreation of the couple's bedroom give a sense of the period of each scene. Sound designer Jill BC DuBoff's choices of music punctuating each scene give aural snapshots about how far forward the couple's relationship has moved. Additionally, Theresa Squire's costumes are not only period-specific, they also allow audiences to understand Michael and Agnes' upward mobility thanks to Michael's success as a writer. It's unfortunate that theatergoers are not given a clearer sense of what makes this marriage ultimately succeed as well.
---- Andy Propst
The Fourposter plays through November 22 at the Clurman Theatre / Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street). Performances are Tuesday at 7pm; Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm; and Sunday at 8pm. Tickets are $41.25 and can be purchased by calling 212-279-4200 or by visiting www.ticketcentral.com. Further information is available online at www.KeenCompany.org.
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