Marital Bliss, Monkish Miss

The origin of I Do! I Do! is as charming as the hit musical itself. World War II, Holland: a young writer named Jan de Hartog evokes German ire because he won't register with the Nazi chamber of culture. His books are banned. His friends tell him to go into hiding. His refuge is a lady's retirement home. Rations are so few that what's secreted to him barely keeps him alive. He appeals to the retirement home's director. She devises a plan, but asks, is he squeamish? He's game; he has to be. So twice daily she smuggles him hearty soup in a bedpan.

Now with energy to burn, de Hartog looks around the room and eyes his bed anew, wondering what it has seen, imagining it as witness to 50 years of marriage. "I dreamt what my life would be if I hadn't died that young," de Hartog recounts today from his cozy living room in a shady enclave near West University. The result was a two-character play, The Fourposter.

For more than a decade, nothing happened with the play. Then, somehow, it made its way to a summer stock company in Maine. "This severe couple straight out of 'American Gothic' confront me," de Hartog remembers. "'Are you the author?' I admit it. 'You must have had a microphone under our bed.' I knew it'd be a hit."

And how. Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy took The Fourposter from Maine across America to Broadway, where it won the 1952 Tony. Years later, David Merrick turned it into a musical. Gower Champion directed. Robert Preston and Mary Martin starred. The rest of I Do! I Do! is history.

History of a sort relived itself at the opening night of A.D. Players revival of I Do! I Do!: de Hartog was in the audience. And what he saw was pure, old-fashioned fun. This always confident, usually competent company put on a thoroughly endearing production. Marion Arthur Kirby, in limber voice but even more versatile form as the male lead, He, is all giddy delirium when he declares, "I Love My Wife," and all nostalgic exasperation when, in "The Father of the Bride," he can't believe his daughter is marrying an idiot. A puffy big boy, Kirby makes his character appealing by cutting him down to size. Almost as engaging is Nancy Fauber as the female lead, She; though gesture heavy, she's a pip, especially when strutting her ridiculous stuff in "Flaming Agnes" and, inversely, in the more somber, middle-aged torch song, "What Is a Woman?" What Fauber comes across most as is a trouper, which works well for her wifely role. Convincingly comfortable with each other, Fauber and Kirby are two parts of a very cute whole.

Jerry Averill, directing with affectionate wisdom, also deserves mention. When the babies arrive in "Love Isn't Everything," He and She parade a clothesline of diapers. When they argue that "Nobody's Perfect," He pulls out a list of her faults, while She unrolls a scroll of his. Taking advantage of the opportunity to add textures in a way other Houston directors rarely do, Averill fills the stage with colorful props, with even the fourposter bed itself getting to play with a balloon (an appropriate, celebratory touch). The costumes are festive, the set is warm, and there was even wedding cake in the lobby for the opening night party. A.D. Players makes it easy for me to answer, when asked if I think reviving this work is worth the effort, that, certainly, I do, I do.

The creators of Monky Business -- which is receiving its debut at Galveston's Grand 1894 Opera House -- hope the musical satire will be a regional-theater hit à la Nunsense. With characters named "Abbot" Costello and "Brother" Lee Love who are staging a radiothon to prevent the Monastery of St. Bernard from becoming Bernie's Casino Royale, Monky Business' artistic team needs to aim lower -- or write higher. Sure, as the brain trust points out, the show is financially attractive -- small cast, simple costumes, one easy set and, perhaps, a sole piano -- but with "We'll bridge that cross when we come to it" passing for humor, and songs sapping the life out of musical-theater standards, most bigtime producers aren't likely to find it interesting.

The name of the radio station hosting the monks' money-raiser? WGOD. Who provides vital airtime? The Liturgical Order of Radio Directors: the ( you got it) LORD. A silent monk is the sound-effects man -- think of him as Harpo Monk -- until, by a miracle, he finds his voice, which helps the brothers in their bungling efforts to raise $250,000 so that they can continue their vow of poverty (ha ha). Madcap antics from writers Todd Mueller and Hank Boland (trained at Chicago's Second City?!) include commercial goofs, theological spats and a monk named Clarence who isn't all he seems, because he's trying to earn his horns.

When a monk wishes he could dress up, it's more for a song cue ("Mohair Rag": "There's no hair / like mohair / Oddly / it's Godly") than for appearance's sake. And since the play's audience subs as the radio-studio audience, I have no idea why the monks sometimes choose to sing to each other. In "Long Distance Calling," composer Gregg Opelka concocts a ballad from such banal lyrics as "God's on the line / Won't you accept it / The connection's just fine." The uninspired ode "Celibacy" wonders if God were down here would He "abstain" or be "in pain."

About all that can be said of the five-member cast is that they have a lot of energy, perhaps because M. Seth Reines, usually a shrewd director, goes desperately overboard. With chorus lines, cartoonish chases and sight gags quite literally up the wazoo, what Reines seems to be saying is, Laugh, damn it! But what's missing is irony. Monky Business has the audacity to follow up a reference to the Good Book with a song cue that, no, it's "The Greatest Book on Earth." The show wants to be witty, but revels in corn. "If you're able, I promise not to be Cain." Groan. It doesn't have a prayer.

Monky Business plays through July 23 at the Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice Street, Galveston, (800) 54-SHOWS.

I Do! I Do! plays through August 13 at A.D. Players, 2710 West Alabama, 526-2721.

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Peter Szatmary