The musical I Do! I Do! is showing its age — and that could be encouraging, rather than distressing.
The 1966 show takes the audience through several phases of a 50-year marriage in just over two hours, including intermission, which makes for some jarringly quick changes in emotions and actions by both husband and wife. But that's the nature of the script, not the fault of the players in Stage West Community Playhouse's nicely done version of the show, thanks to actors Dorothy Ferguson as Agnes and Keith Surplus as Michael and director Kathy Capelle.
Ferguson's beautiful voice is a joy to hear, and her antics during Flaming Agnes are completely charming. Though Surplus' character is difficult to like, thanks to Michael's callous superiority and disdain for women, Surplus does a fine job with the role, playful and lovable at one moment, unbearable at another, though hardly chastened at the end.
I've seen several productions of this show in the half-century since its debut, and, in that time, attitudes toward women and women's issues have drastically changed. Lines that once got chuckles and guffaws now elicit groans of disapproval, and well they should.
For example, a few years into the marriage, when Agnes complains that Michael shuts her out of his work life as a writer and sarcastically asks him if it's because his writing may be "too vulgar for my tender little mind," Michael shoots back that no, it's "too complex" for her simple little mind. (Turns out he writes potboiler romance novels.)
In earlier incarnations, his patient delivery would bring laughs. But in this time of heightened awareness of boorish male behavior, Capelle doesn't soften Surplus' character, and he delivers it with pompous, arrogant superiority, earning an audible grumble from the Stage West audience.
When Michael gleefully sings that It's a Well Known Fact that men of 40 "go to town" while "women go to pot" as he skips up the aisle toward a new, younger, adoring woman, leaving Agnes behind with two kids and a pile of unpaid bills, there's not a discernible shred of sympathy or understanding for him anywhere. Of course, Michael soon shows remorse, and they make up. But his churlish behavior continues, as, even in old age, he blithely orders Agnes to tidy up as he does more important things.
Even so, Surplus' natural charm comes through, helping him avoid (symbolic) rotten tomatoes thrown at him at curtain call.
I Do! I Do! is indeed a series of snapshots in time, and writer Tom Jones could hardly foresee the approaching sea changes in attitudes when he wrote it in 1966. Though there were glimmers back then, they hadn't happened in his show's time frame, so it would have been inauthentic to include them. Indeed, the show must be seen as a period piece, much as Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew is. It was true for its time.
And, as done by the Stage West cast and crew, it's an enjoyable night's evening of nostalgia and reminiscence. And gratitude that attitudes are changing for many, even if not for all.