By Julia Polinsky
Director Sean Daniels has paced I and You is if it were
dishing out social-media instant information, and the two actors who play the
high school students blitz through their dialogue at warp speed. That speed may
be appropriate for teenagers, but it serves the story badly. All the clues are
in the text, but they get obscured by mildly annoying performances, which make
tedious characters of these two far from ordinary kids.
In scenic designer Michael Carnahan’s terrific set, an after school
disaster seems to start when Anthony (Reggie D. White) arrives in the bedroom
of Caroline (Kayla Ferguson), Caroline, a shut-in with a serious health
problem, also has an attitude. Anthony comes bearing last-minute homework, a
project for the next day’s English class: an analysis of the use of pronouns in
Leaves of Grass (I and you, get it?). He needs Caroline’s help. She’s
been chosen as his partner for the project, even though she’s been out of
school for weeks with her illness, her “thing,” as they call it.
She’s having none of it, neither project nor Anthony, and does a
postmodern Garbo take: she wants to be let alone. For the next ninety minutes,
more or less, Caroline and Anthony confront each other, argue, make friends,
retreat from that friendship, make it again, swap tastes in music, talk about
school and life and stuff, and, finally, engage in the great barbaric yawp of
Whitman’s “fundamentally awesome” poem, as Anthony calls it. Of course,
Caroline’s initial resistance to the poem dissolves; she succumbs to the twin
enchantments of Anthony, and Song of Myself.
The majesty of Whitman’s language thoroughly shows up the inanity
of the discourse between Caroline and Anthony. Gunderson puts a tad too much
effort into establishing adolescent street cred, referencing not only Facebook,
but “forty cooler ways to communicate than email.” Particularly cringe-worthy?
When the poet who wrote, “I celebrate myself, and sing myself/and what I
assume, you shall assume/for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to
you,” becomes “Walt Whitman: National Badass.” It comes as a relief to hear the
famous opening lines of celebration of life, to hear the significant, poignant
Photos by Carol
And yet. Throughout I and You, something stirs beneath the banal
surface. Too many unanswered questions pop up. Time and again, talk leads to
something, then goes poof! and vanishes. Gunderson tosses in hint after hint,
but the breakneck speed of dialogue obscures those small intimations of
something bigger underlying the conversation between these two kids.
Is it love, that underlying something-big? The play seems to say
so, but the actors don’t succeed at being teenagers who fall in love, not just
with the poem and the music and the ideas they share, but with each other. Her
sad story, his bad day, her health, him being a “perfect son,” her pain in the
ass attitude, his optimism: they’re set up for dislike, and that’s what we get,
for most of the play, until things tip over, and we don’t.
The tipping point in I and You comes very late, and doesn’t
work well enough for Caroline and Anthony to convert, suddenly, from zinging
one another with snappy one-liners, to kissing.
Until it does.
Turns out, there’s a very good reason for the change, and that’s
all I’m going to say about it. I and You may feel overlong (at 90
minutes, yes, overlong). So what? The end of the play has such impact, it’s
well worth wading through the setup, to get gobsmacked by the finish.
I and You by Lauren Gunderson
At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East. 59th St. (Madison and Park)
Opening January 27, runs through February 28
Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM;
Friday at 8 PM;
Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM;
Sunday at 3 PM.
Single tickets are $70 ($49 for
To purchase tickets, call Ticket
Central at (212) 279-4200