Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 590

The Fourposter, Jan de Hartog's most successful play, was first produced at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 1951, and ran for 632 performances on Broadway. This first run starred the famous husband and wife acting duo, Jessica Tandy, as Agnes, and Hume Cronyn, as Michael. New York Times drama...

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The Fourposter, Jan de Hartog's most successful play, was first produced at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 1951, and ran for 632 performances on Broadway. This first run starred the famous husband and wife acting duo, Jessica Tandy, as Agnes, and Hume Cronyn, as Michael. New York Times drama critic Brooks Atkinson gave the opening night performance hearty applause. In an October 25 review, he hails it as a ‘‘literate and professional work all the way through.’’ He describes the writing of the play as ‘‘so compact and simple that you may not realize at once how good it is.’’ Atkinson notes that while ‘‘nothing very extraordinary happens’’ throughout the play, de Hartog ‘‘has managed to skeletonize it with great understanding and skill.’’ His one criticism is that"Once in a while it seems thin.'' In a somewhat longer review in the New York Times a month after the first, Atkinson expands upon his original praise for the play, calling it "a sparingly written and deftly acted cartoon of marriage.’’ He again asserts that it contains sequences that are ‘‘thin and tenuous.’’ However, he asserts that ‘‘minute as it is in size and reserved as it is in style, The Fourposter is a genuine and original piece of civilized comedy.’’ John Gassner, in Best American Plays (1958), comments that The Fourposter, ‘‘revealed a facet of the author's dramatic talent hitherto unsuspected on Broadway,’’ adding, "It was a warm sense of comedy that made The Fourposter one of the pleasantest of Broadway plays.’’ Gassner goes on to explain, ‘‘The background of The Fourposter is vividly American, but in treating married life, the author dealt with timeless traits and foibles, even while availing himself of elements of period comedy.’’ The Fourposter earned de Hartog the 1952 Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award. It was adapted to the screen in a 1952 film produced by Columbia Pictures. A musical rendition entitled I Do! I Do! opened on Broadway in 1966.

Describing the 1955 revival of The Fourposter in New York's City Center, including the original cast of Tandy and Cronyn, Gassner notes, ‘‘it was appreciated no less than on its first appearance on Broadway proper.’’ Gassner does point out that ‘‘Dissent was possible on the grounds that the humor and sentiment were rather standardized,’’ but defends the play in stating that

a critic could be mollified on the feeling that familiarity has been a requirement of domestic comedy ever since the ancients, and the standardization of humor in De Hartog's play was certainly mitigated by the rich acting roles provided by the author.

Atkinson said of the 1955 run of The Fourposter that"the comedy seems even brighter'' than in his ‘‘happy memories of the original opening night.’’ Calling it"original and funny,'' Atkinson observes,

Mr. de Hartog's dialogue is immensely entertaining, his point of view is sardonically humorous and he is never unaware of the fact that his version of the comédie humaine is frequently touching.’’

De Hartog saw the production of four of his plays between 1939 and 1951 at the Amsterdam Municipal Theater on Broadway and on the West end. Gassner describes de Hartog's appearance on the American theatrical scene:

[De Hartog] first attracted attention in the American theatre in 1948 with Skipper Next to God. . . , the drama of a sea captain who transported Jewish refugees to Palestine and refused to allow international politics to rule his conscience. It was not a play contrived for Broadway, but it attracted attention with its strenuous idealism when staged in New York with the late John Garfield in the role of the skipper.''

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