They do! They do!
That’s the delightful Mary Coppola Gjurich and Gregory Gjurich, who tirelessly, and not effortlessly, work their butts off at O’Connell and Company right now in the 1966 musical “I Do! I Do!”
Oh, how they do.
They play a charming couple experiencing the highs and lows of a marriage, as told around the gathering totem pole of their four-poster bed. This is where all the magic and mayhem of their marriage happens, and from where we hear their stories.
Yes, the musical is charming and adorable and cute as ever, like a puppy who auditions his new teeth on your favorite shoes, or a drippy lick of thick caramel intent on uprooting a filling. It’s built to make you swoon for the good old days. Before you knew how challenging and even depressing marriage could be. Before you reverted back to laughing off the incidental nuisances of co-habitation, the riffs that once unraveled your day. You know: sacrifice.
The Gjuriches, who are married in real life, sacrifice nothing on stage. They are wonderful together and apart. Their chemistry works to their advantage, unsurprisingly. A nuanced glance here, a sneaky eye roll there—they got this.
As individual performers, they also serve their audiences with great dedication and effort, which can be much at times, but is largely appreciated. I found them to be individually stronger in their quieter moments, such as Mary’s “What Is a Woman?”, and collectively stronger in their louder brawls, like the daytime-soapy “The Honeymoon Is Over.” (No spoiler alert necessary there.) Luckily they’re the only two people on stage the whole show, and we can indulge in their characters’ evolution.
They’re ideal for this material, and wonderfully prepared by director-choreographer Bobby Cooke, whose approach to staging musicals is always holistic, efficient and thoughtful. I counted at least a half-dozen moments where the material felt livelier and fresher than a production a couple years ago across town. (That’s a great benefit of getting to re-produce written material; you get to interpret it all over again.). That’s to the credit of Cooke’s infusion of irony, and the cast’s ease of fun. This feels like a modern adaptation that’s still set in the second half of the 20th century.
It’s also clever as ever. Cooke punches up scenes with elements that I must assume are not on the page; adornments that are obviously smarter than the bulk of the written material.
But all of that having been said, there are flaws on the page, which I’m going to guess existed just as glaringly in 1966 as they do now.
The show asks us to invest two hours of time with just two characters, to enter their bedroom for their most intimate conversations, to celebrate their biggest milestones. But in return they only give us the gestures of daily life. Imagine being invited to a black tie ball and being served Ritz crackers and cubed yellow cheese. They impart the lessons but not the case studies. Agnes and Michael are known initially only as “She” and “He.” But who were they before their wedding night? How are they unique, and how are we folded into their lives? The show merely reflects the audience’s marriages back to them, like a polished (and well-executed) episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” (Oh, how I long for Stephen Sondheim’s abstract but deep “Company.”)
Ironically, the show’s archaic gender politics doesn’t even raise much concern. (I offer that perspective as a white man.) The show may be staid and dusty, still riddled with old-fashioned norms and marital expectations, of course, but Agnes is far more feminist than our memory of her originator Mary Martin. Perhaps we needed to come around to her, and not the other way around. Our country is only now getting around to achieving the original goals of the feminist movement. Time may now be up, but let’s not forget that the clock has been running for ages.
"I Do! I Do!"
★ ★ ★ (out of 4)
Presented by O’Connell & Company through May 6 in residence at The Park School of Buffalo (4625 Harlem Road, Amherst). Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $30 general admission (with discounts available) at the box office, by calling 848-0800 or visiting oconnellandcompany.com.