If you’ve ever driven to Florida on Interstate 95, you’ve seen it: the campy, politically incorrect tourist trap called South of the Border.
Billboards leading up to the South Carolina attraction feature a Mexican caricature named Pedro and terrible puns like “Pedro’s Weather Report: Chili Today – Hot Tamale!” or the image of a hot dog next to “You Never Sausage a Place! You’re Always a Weiner at Pedro’s!”
The place is offensive, yet when it was built in the ’50s and ’60s, it was one of the few integrated amusement parks on the East Coast. Perhaps that’s the best way to frame “I Do! I Do!” Something that was once progressive is now out of date. In my last review of a Virginia Repertory Theatre show – its February production of “Saturday, Sunday, Monday” – I wrote about how the show was outdated in its views on marriage and gender roles. Had I known what awaited me with “I Do! I Do!” I might have saved some of my ammo.
Penned by Tom Jones with music by Harvey Schmidt -- the same team that crafted the winning musical “The Fantasticks” -- the show follows the lives of a married couple from 1895 through 1945. The musical opens on the wedding night of Agnes and Michael Snow, played by real-life married couple Lauren Leinhaas-Cook and Larry Cook. Michael is an arrogant novelist whose career slowly creeps toward hackwork; Agnes is a homemaker.
In one song after another, the musical shows the egotistical Michael steamroll his wife as the duo ages. Were this merely a light send-up of marriage, it probably wouldn’t raise my ire. Instead, the subtext is a celebration of the view that women are silly creatures who are undeserving of respect.
The best example is Michael’s song “A Well Known Fact,” where the character revels in his opinion that men get more attractive as they age, while “women go to pot.” In his view, women over the age of 40 are useless aside from raising children and keeping house; it’s not funny, it’s disgusting. In Agnes’ rejoinder, she flounces about in a funny hat, fantasizing about the day she’ll have flings as a graying lady at a bar. The two are far from equal.
The Cooks, as charming as they usually are, can’t manage to break out of their characters’ unlikeable qualities as written. Because of this, we don’t care when we learn of Michael’s infidelity or Agnes’ half-hearted attempt to leave him. Maybe if Lauren Leinhaas-Cook’s performance were less sincere, her husband’s wouldn’t come across so cruel. Jones’ lyrics are rarely clever, while Schmidt’s music offers the occasional hummable tune. Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t add that some members of the audiences genuinely seemed to enjoy themselves.
In his director’s note, Bruce Miller writes that the play that inspired “I Do! I Do!” was written by a man who wanted to reflect “the lack of respect he felt was awarded to women at that time.”
Perhaps in its day the musical elicited that kind of response, but today its treatment of the female protagonist is unpleasant. As I asked in my review of “Saturday, Sunday, Monday,” why is a show with such little charm and so many dated concepts being staged in 2016?
Virginia Rep’s “I Do! I Do!” plays through April 3 at Hanover Tavern, 13181 Hanover Courthouse Road, 23069. For information, visit va-rep.org or call 282-2620.