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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
I and You
By Evan Henerson
The girl is sick, homebound and a veritable empress within the digital space that has become her only secure link to the real world. The boy is healthy, a basketball player, as optimistic as the girl is downbeat and cynical. He comes into her room bearing waffle fries, a dog-eared copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and the resolve to finish the English class assignment on which these two very different 17-year-olds are to be partnered.
As boy-meets-girl, mismatched pairing go, the scenario detailed above seems fairly uninspired, but not so fast. Lauren Gunderson's I and You has myriad treasures to offer and not simply to Whitman-iacs or other lovers of poetry. In the play's L.A. premiere directed by Robin Larsen at the Fountain Theatre, Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock bring off this deceptively rich two-hander with tears and grace.
Let's give the first kudos to the creators of Caroline's room, where the entire action of I and You takes place. Via the bric-a-brac strewn bookshelf, the posters, the wall of artily doctored photographs sitting shrine-like over the Caroline's bed, set designer Tom Buderwitz and props/set dressing designer Dillon Nelson provide us with much key information as to whose world this is. The space also contains a computer on a nearby desk and a bedside stand stocked with medications and a pitcher of water. Every bit a shut-in, Caroline is excused from school and rarely sets foot out of this room. She even texts her mother when she needs provisions.
Circumstances notwithstanding, this is not a space for over-the-top eccentricity. Finch's Caroline sports her own style, covering an impressive &mdash and braided &mdash mane of red hair under a snood. She is waiting for a liver transplant and doesn't really do human interaction. Still, there's nothing twitchy, socially mal-adept, or self-conscious about this young woman who works the space in total comfort.
But confident or otherwise, she is not expecting Anthony (Hancock) whose arrival &mdash spouting poetry of all things &mdash opens up all sorts of cracks and possibilities. Although the two are classmates who have never met, Anthony knows she is artistic and can help improve the crappy poster he has cobbled together. Anthony is also a bit of a loner in search of a human connection. He figures that Whitman is the ideal bridge, given the author's individuality, free-spiritedness and, yes, defiance of all things death-related. Initially Caroline is having none of it. "I'm your tragic fairy of hope? Screw you!"she says, but as the evening deepens and the verses and music flow, the relationship takes on a surprising new tone.
Gunderson's digital savvy and ear for present-day teenspeak are spot-on and the two actors convincingly play younger than they probably are. The discovery by Finch's Caroline that seemingly "weird"things can turn out to be beautiful is a lovely bit of on-stage blossoming. Her ultimate possessiveness of Whitman and Leaves of Grass (along with an insistence that the work is not erotic) is a kick. Hancock matches her expertly; his Anthony is patient, kind, but also not one to easily back down.
I and You is an unconventional coming-of-age love story and director Larsen negotiates the delicate dance between Finch and Hancock with a skilled hand. From Finch's surreptitious appearance touch-ups to Hancock's occasional bits of awkwardness over, yes, being in a girl's bedroom, the production gets it right from the opening bell, all the way to its bittersweet conclusion.
Challenging works take risks and contain surprises. If anybody tries to ruin this one, you are advised to make like Whitman and barbarically yawp them into silence.