I and YOUBy Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Krista Scott
Stage Manager -Sarahi Salazar
Set Design - Clare Floyd DeVries
Sound Design- David. H.M. Lambert
Props Design – Hannah Law
Lighting Design – John Leach
Costume Design – Sarah Tonemah
Reviewed Performance: 5/2/2015
Reviewed by LK Fletcher, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Deadlines. They can be angst ridden to even the most stoic of individuals. Take a chronically ill, perpetually bitchy, homebound high school senior, Caroline, (Mackie Louis) and impose a surprise visit from an unknown classmate, Anthony, (Nate Davis) who is insisting on collaborating for the all important American Lit project due tomorrow and that deadline can feel like life or death to two teenagers.
The two person cast featuring two mis-matched teens who inhabit award winning playwright Lauren Gunderson’s “You and I” is part of a National New Play Network "rolling" premiere. Gunderson is a young and prolific playwright. A finalist for Susan Smith Blackburn awards, and a winner of this year’s ATCA Steinberg Award she weaves a masterful and complex web in which lie silken treasures of the human experience. The journey we each make to and through this life, those we travel with, and the words, music and memories that entomb us. “I and You” has the life force to take you on this 90 minute journey which may leave you questioning the whole human experience.
So, Walt Whitman. The third character or central figure in this story is ever present. When Anthony shows up unannounced at Caroline’s bedroom door, interrupting her passionate sing along to her hairbrush the play opens with Anthony quoting Walt Whitman, “I and this mystery here we stand” And so the story begins. This winsome, athletic, musical, literate and handsome African American young man is already suspect. Who is all those things? Really? Anthony is. And Caroline doesn’t like it a bit.
Caroline has a litany of issues that define her caustic, biting sarcasm and reflexive depression. Anthony’s unwelcome intrusion begging her support to deconstruct Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and his mystical every changing use of the pronouns, “I” and “you”. Caroline’s constant offense to all of Anthony’s offerings, personal, emotional and literary might lead you to believe that it is the unlikable Caroline who need Anthony, but we see that it is a mutual need for each other that the poetry and the deadline all bring together.
There is a wonderful spontaneity between Louis and Davis throughout the play. Caroline’s manic, draining need is beautifully driven by Mackie Louis and gently lobbed and returned by her cast mate. Davis manages to remain likable and trusting throughout every crisis, even if he does wander off into a trance like mode to spout even more poetry. His genuine interest in Caroline, his personal passion for Coltrane and basketball and life are skillfully balanced in the very believable vulnerability of a young man. Nate Davis is just the young man you would want to be friends with your daughter.
Director Krista Scott has driven the piece like a Grand Prix event. It is reckless and fast with impossibly fast curves. The dialogue and energy drive. There is seldom a moment to rest and reflect--- but those that do are really beautiful resting points. Caroline’s impromptu Walt Whitman presentation and Anthony’s monologue about the boy who died on the basketball court show a sensitivity to the cadence of this brief but powerful piece. Scott drives us to this impossibly surprise ending barely strapped in for this mystery conclusion and she does it well.
The potential for a boy girl romance is always the elephant in the room in this type of setting. Scott builds intimacy and relationship but skirts what could be a romantic connection. Her focus is on the humanity and spiritual connection that Caroline and Anthony develop and it plays well. The actors typically share the stage from a distance. Scott takes the small space and graciously continues to build stage pictures that are moving and interesting in this small space.
The set design by Clare Floyd DeVries is a vivid and telling room for a creative and expressive teen age, shut-in. Because Caroline is awaiting an organ donor, she is limited to her life in home. Her unnamed illness has made her bedroom her prison and her palace. Posters of Elvis, photography, graphic design create a colorful collage while the linear construction of a built in desk and small window create a believable bedroom. The use of a neon checkerboard pattern on the floor almost creates a game show vibe. The adaptations for the final scene and the large amount of open space at the front of the set give an extra illusion of space not only to the room but allow the audience in this intimate setting the sense that we are one with the scene.
There is no indication in the script where we are …. It is Anywhere, USA. We are in a teen girl’s upstairs bedroom. I think the bedroom window felt like a window well not an upstairs window but then again not all homes are built equal. The set design partnered with John Leach’s lighting design created a working space that was functional and believable. The sound design by David. H.M. Lambert beginning with that annoying smoke alert- worked. The escalating cacophony of music and noise and the end built a dramatic ending to “I and You”. Costumes- leggings and layers that metaphorically speak for Caroline were the work of Sarah Tonemah who artfully remembered to keep Anthony in his High School basketball jersey.
I remember as an 11-year-old reading “Song of Myself” from “Leaves of Grass” and loving it so much that I created a series of copper etchings quoting it. (It was the 70’s- that’s what we did in our free time) The words and the emotions they starred left a strong impact.
It opens here:
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
And here it ends:
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
Life. Deadlines. “I and this mystery here I stand”. The show is funny and authentic and eventually, it is astonishing. I purchased the play. I read it again. I loved it. I though about it and I thought about it some more. I even pulled out my copy of “Leaves of Grass” and read it again. I believe that “I and You” will sustain many generations of actors, directors and audiences as excellent theater. Ponder the mystery of the story within the story and the poetry will speak its’ answers.
230 West Fourth Street
Fort Worth, TX 76102
Plays through May 23
Thursday evening at 7:30 PM, Friday and Saturday evening at 8 PM and Saturday afternoon at 3:00 PM
Tickets range from $20-$35. Student, Senior, Military and Group discounts options are available.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.circletheater.org, call the box office at 817-877-3040