A comedy/drama that does itself in with a gimmicky ending.
by Joel Benjamin
Lauren Gunderson’s I and You cheats the audience from the moment the lights rise on Michael Carnahan’s rumpled but charming set. It’s a room that, in the end, turns out to be a dishonest manifestation meant to mislead the audience for 85 of the play’s 90 minutes. I and You takes what might have been an enlightening look at two teenagers, both angst-ridden and needing each other in their own ways, and pulls the rug out from under the viewers with a gimmick so old that it was ancient even before The Twilight Zone used it.
To make things worse, to add weight to her play—actually an extended, meandering conversation—she mines the words of the great American poet, Walt Whitman to give a phony resonance to the ramblings of these two immature young people, particularly in the last moments of the play which were achingly over-the-top.
Chronically ill, stay-at-home high school student, Caroline (Kayla Ferguson), is ensconced in her very homey room. Her private space is invaded at the play’s opening by eager beaver Anthony (Reggie D. White), ostensibly there to complete an English assignment about Walt Whitman which is due the very next day. True to all the clichés of this genre of distrusting characters hating each other at first, Caroline and Anthony gradually bond over their project, cell phones, the Internet, Caroline’s terrible illness and, of course, Walt Whitman, who seems to be able to say everything that Ms. Gunderson can’t . . . or won’t. Their mutual admiration society, though, isn’t what it appears to be. In fact, their chemical attraction is hard to understand and doesn’t flow from the conversations as written. Anthony constantly brings up Whitman’s homosexuality which at first shocks then thrills Caroline, as does Whitman’s thorough sensual enjoyment of life and its mysteries and pleasures.
The two joust verbally with great skill, the words Ms. Gunderson gives them ringing somewhat true. Ms. Gunderson does have an ear for the way they speak, but oddly these two high school seniors, who should be around 17 or 18, sound more like 14-year-olds.
Nothing in this play is what it seems, from the homework assignment hoax to the annoying beeping of a smoke detector. There are far too many awkward transitions in the conversation—all for the purpose of leaving clues which will “pay off” in the end.
Kayla Ferguson and Reggie D. White are interesting enough actors, with enough nuance and chemistry between them to sustain the 90 intermission-less minutes of the play. However, their ever so slight romantic entangling doesn’t make emotional or psychological sense as Mr. White comes across as a tad gay, despite all his talk about playing basketball and a mini-career as a lothario with the ladies.
Brian J. Lilienthal’s lighting and Jennifer Caprio’s age-appropriate clothing helped enormously.
Sean Daniels, the director, couldn’t quite manage to move the mostly lethargic play along, and wasn’t helped by Ms. Gunderson’s verbosity.
I and You. Through February 28 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit www.59E59.org Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
Photos by Carol Rosegg