Keith Powell is the 25-year-old founder of Contemporary Stage, a multicultural summer Equity company now in its second season. His credits — classic and non — include acting, directing and producing, and are lengthy and varied enough to suggest he must have begun his career before birth. And he somehow managed to stuff in a gig on “Law and Order: Criminal Intent.” Last year, CSC’s inaugural season won two Barrymore Awards in Philadelphia, including one for Lynn Redgrave’s perf in “Collected Stories.” Powell now has lured two more biggish names to Wilmington’s charming Victorian Baby Grand Theater for a revival of “The Fourposter.”
The audience is as surprising as the company: Downtown Wilmington is totally closed on Sundays, yet here was a nearly full house, in 95-degree weather; black and white, old, medium and young, dressed up and not, and nearly everybody was having a good time. Except, alas, the critics.
Playwright Jan de Hartog’s 1951 Broadway hit won a Tony, was adapted for the screen and later became the musical “I Do! I Do!” Powell’s revival sets the two-hander in Harlem, presumably during the Harlem Renaissance, although there is nothing in the script to suggest that rich context.
A celebration of marriage — the kind based on stamina and habit as well as love — “The Fourposter” follows Michael (Keith David) and Agnes (Jasmine Guy) from their awkward wedding night through 35 years of childbirth, child-rearing, confessions of infidelity and various indignities, reconciliations and self-discoveries.
Somewhere about 1911, it suddenly seems Powell has blown the dust off this museum piece and brought it to life, but it soon lapses back into stilted dialogue (“Get up immediately, I say!”) and sitcom situations.
David mugs it up, playing against type, never convincing as a famous writer, even a “pompous ass whose book sold 300,000 copies.” His clothes, from top hat to opulent smoking jacket, all look like uncomfortable costumes.
However, Guy, who long ago perfected the elegant spoiled brat, looks lovely in period dress, even in the ridiculous and presumably authentic “sleeping helmet.” Her acting is always crisp, believable and disciplined, while David shambles all over the stage, playing up crowd-pleasing crude sexual gags. They seem to have been directed by two different people.
The set is lavish, although the scene changes are much too long.