“The Fourposter” makes perfect sense for Keen Company. In accordance with the troupe’s mission, Jan de Hartog’s 1951 dramedy is both sincere and sophisticated, wittily tracking 35 years in a couple’s marriage. Director Blake Lawrence, however, gets so enamored of the play’s period setting she fails to tap its honesty. Her production is more of a museum piece than the script.
Granted, the writing does have musty moments. The play unfolds in Michael (Todd Weeks) and Agnes’ (Jessica Dickey) bedroom between 1890 and 1915, and there are quaint references to cloth nightcaps and cod liver oil. The dialogue, too, has the stiff formality of vintage American dramas. On their first night in their wedding bed, Michael asks Agnes if she’s cold, and her stilted reply is “Heavens, no. I’m simply boiling. And you?”
Still, these people have passion beneath their long cotton underwear. There are threats of divorce, confessions of affairs, and one disturbing scene where Michael plans to beat their son with a riding crop while Agnes fumes over a lie the boy told her several years before. Later, like a suburban Nora Helmer, Agnes gets an eloquent speech about why marriage makes her feel trapped, and Michael, a famous author, icily dissects why she needs to love a struggling artist instead of a successful one.
These fights usually end with frantic kisses, as the lovebirds realize they need each other after all.
Yet for all this heat, the production is aggressively polite. Unless they’re smooching, Weeks and Dickey keep a genteel distance, and they speak in strangely high-pitched voices, as though terrified of sounding base. Both perfs become caricatures of the early 20th century, all perfect posture and starched linen, and so they miss the play’s genuine feeling.
In this summer’s New York Intl. Fringe Festival, Dickey had fierce intensity in the play “The Amish Project,” and Weeks has done textured work in Atlantic Theater Company productions like “The Voysey Inheritance,” so it’s likely Lawrence pushed them in this brittle direction.
Likewise, the designs are competent but unexciting. In the 1890 scene, for instance, Sandra Goldmark’s set has just the right water basin, yet the room is too perfectly neat, like it’s stuck behind a velvet rope. De Hartog’s play begs for a bedroom where basins can get smashed, and for actors who might throw them any second.