I Do! I Do! (I Don't!)

Carolyn Popp, Scott McGowan

I don't like it. I Do! I Do!, that is. I said "I don't" instead of "I didn't" not just to match the show's title. I don't like this play. I wouldn't have liked it had I seen it when it debuted on Broadway in 1966 with Robert Preston and Mary Martin. I didn't like the Surflight's production. I won't ever like this play, no matter who produces it.

I frequently feel a little defensive when I pan a Surflight production. First of all, I've been a reviewer for only a couple of seasons, so I'm not exactly Clive Barnes. Secondly, I hate laying any grief on these people. They're a talented, hard-working crew whose best work comes within millimeters of the best you'll see on Broadway. And they're sort of our "home team" when it comes to regional theater. So always go in rooting for them.

I have to admit, though, that this time I was a little skeptical, even wary, right from the start. I Do! I Do! tells the story of one couple's marriage over a period of 50 years and the cast consists of exactly two people, the husband and wife, played by Scott McGowan and Carolyn Popp. A two person play is a real challenge. Hal Blakenship and Carol Lambert pulled it off in The Gin Game last season. But that Pulitzer Prize winner was a straight play, a seriocomic examination of two lives teetering on desperation.

I Do! I Do!, on the other hand, is a musical. But is it a musical comedy? Hmmm. I don't think so. It has many light moments but in order to get some oomph out of a story with only two characters, the author simply has to pit them against each other, and often enough and seriously enough to keep the audience involved. The result in this case is a less light-hearted story than I prefer in a musical.

In the early scenes Scott McGowan reminded me of a young Ray Bolger or Jack Haley (the Scarecrow and the Tin Man respectively in The Wizard of Oz). He's a singer and a hoofer and in his checked suit he looked authentically turn of the (last) century. But as the show wore on his charm seemed to lose its luster. I never warmed up to Carolyn Popp and I can't say exactly why. Perhaps subconsciously she reminded me of someone I don't like.

On those rare occasions when I don't care for a Surflight production I always warn you that it just might be me and that you might like it. This time around, however, despite my idiosyncratic reaction to the story and cast I don't think you'll care for this show much either. On opening night the audience was made up largely of seniors, people who are naturals for a show like this. Yet I'd characterize their response as tepid at best. The original Broadway production didn't exactly set the theater world on fire either. It ran for only 560 performances--respectable but far from the four digit figures a bonafide hit would reach. Even the 1982 movie adaptation starring Hal Linden and Lee Remick was called "awful" by one reviewer.

 Evening performances run through September 21, 2003 at 8:00 p.m.

Addendum, Summer 2005:  Carolyn Popp was great in Surflight's Trump Plaza production of Cabaret. (PDF file)