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Hackneyed Lives and Loves

I Do, I Do directed by Judith Haskell at the Loeb Theater through July 9

By Gay Seidman

ONE REASON Cole Porter's musicals have remained so popular through the years is that none of his lyrics are predictable, and most of his situations provide some surprises. I Do, I Do by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, is unlikely to have the same success, largely because its authors don't seem to have caught on to that fact. The musical manages to incorporate every cliche ever proposed about marriage--from the shy newlyweds through the crises of middle age to the comfort of old age--without surprising the audience once. Quite a feat, but tedious nonetheless.

An intimate musical--it has a cast of two, and the entire play takes place in a bedroom. I Do, I Do covers a couple's life together over 50 years of marriage, starting in the 1890s. The play's message is neatly summed up for the audience (in case they managed to avoid it) in the final duet: "Marriage is a very good thing though it's far from easy--still it's filled this house with life and love." For every crisis and every resolution, there is a song; but as the music and lyrics are scarcely less cliched than the plot, the songs hardly lighten the play. A few of the numbers contain some surprises, but they would have to contain a lot more to balance things out.

Not surprisingly, since the marriage began in the late 19th century, I Do, I Do is almost unbelievably sexist in its entire conception. As Agnes, Adrianne Angel plays a housewife who is innocent and fairly childish, but who provides the family's stability. As the husband, Ray Dash is the rather selfish head of the household who manages to make all the family's decisions despite his dependence on Agnes--although, predictably, she figures out early on in the relationship how to manipulate him into agreeing with her. I Do, I Do was written in the mid-'60s, but it still makes no effort to give the characters life beyond traditional roles, and anyone under 70 is likely to have a hard time identifying with the characters--making it hard to figure out why the Loeb decided to produce the play.

The next question, of course, is whether or not two really superb actors could carry it off. It seems unlikely. Angel is occasionally rather shrill, and Dash is frequently stiff, but the fault seems to lie more with the book and direction than with the actors. Both of them have relatively good voices, and once in a while they manage to engage the audience's sympathy despite the play's flaws; but the cliches destroy the effect almost immediately. We can cheer Angel's decision to break out of the marriage when her husband has an affair--Angel does a brilliant job with "Flaming Agnes," the song that marks the crisis--but she is jerked almost immediately back to the traditional role, better expressed in songs like "What is a Woman" (answer: "A woman is only alive when she's in love"). This is a very predictable play.

THE LOEB spared nothing in its efforts to make the production interesting. The set, a bedroom with a fourposter in the center, never changes except in decor, but director Judith Haskell set it on a turntable to give the audience something to think about. The problem, however, is that all too often it ends up looking like a revolving tableau rather than a play. The effect is hardly likely to be either effective or surprising through two full acts. Haskell gives us one interesting moment, when the two actors make themselves up for old age onstage, but for the rest, well, the direction is the same as the book. Predictable.

The authors of I Do, I Do might have done better to use some lines from the first sketch to sum up their play, instead of the hackneyed "life and love" lines. Innocent Agnes tells her husband she has never seen a naked man, and he responds, "You haven't missed much." The smightould be said about the play. I Do, I Do just doesn't.

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