nytheatre.com review by Matt Johnston
October 11, 2008
Although I had never seen one of their shows, I know the Keen Company by reputation. They are known in New York for producing very high quality work both of world premieres and impressive revivals. I am, however, sad to report that The Fourposter falls far short of their reputation both in quality and material.
Written by Jan de Hartog, The Fourposter revolves around one couple's 35-year marriage. As the curtain rises, we begin directly after their marriage, and throughout the play we survey the years beyond that moment, looking into the trials and tribulations of their relationship.
The play is structured very oddly. Each of the three acts contains two separate scenes, with 10-minute intermissions between the acts. Between each scene and act there is always some sort of significant time jump (only the program lets us know exactly how long, ranging from one year to 12 years). During this time the couple goes through a number of personal disputes: bouts with adultery, changing personas, trouble with the kids, misunderstandings, etc. There isn't one clear plot here, but rather, it is a snapshot look at 35 years of this couple's marriage.
It is hard for me to believe that this play won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1952, because it simply has little to no stakes. It is also incredibly hard to find an arc, based on the few isolated moments we see of the marriage.
Unfortunately, anything that could possibly be found in this play is lost in the production. Apart from the beautiful, well-constructed single set, there is very little this production executes successfully. I found it incredibly strange that for a piece that can only rely on its character study, director Blake Lawrence seems to have directed the performances of Jessica Dickey and Todd Weeks into a place nearing caricature. Even though the play is set at the beginning of the 20th century and some social distance is to be expected, the interaction between the two seems very superficial and strangely heightened. I also couldn't understand the choice not to age the actors at all. By the end of the play, they both look exactly physically the same as they do in their honeymoon scene (35 years earlier in the world of the play).
At the end of the day it just seems odd to me that a company would choose to do this play, since it seems very stuffy and museum-like. It has little to communicate to a contemporary audience, which is one of the major reasons to do theatre now in the first place.