By Lauren Gunderson; Directed by Sean Daniels
Produced by Merrimack Repertory Theatre in association with Richard Winkler
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 2.28.16
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
by Shoshana Roberts on 1.27.16
Kayla Ferguson and Reggie D. White in I and You. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
BOTTOM LINE: Lauren Gunderson's play about a sick girl and her classmate offers a surprise that packs a punch.
Caroline (Kayla Ferguson) is sick. Not just for the past few days or a week, but to the point of not having been to school for months. Kids talk and gossip and that results in her classmate Anthony’s (Reggie D. White) curiosity being aroused. Consequently, he volunteers to be Caroline’s partner for a school project on Walt Whitman. There are some hiccups in his detective-like plan though. First is Caroline’s anger at people being nice to her. Next is how much she seems to dislike Whitman’s work. Third is her preoccupation with her phone—her lifeline to the world. Anthony coming into her house is quite the invasion, especially when he likes foreign things like jazz and actual books. Caroline can learn a lot from this charming basketball player and vice versa. Anthony must learn to listen without oozing pity. Otherwise, the two will never manage to finish their school project on time.
One thing that gets Caroline through her uneventful days, as her mother is barely responsive somewhere in another part of her house, is the camera on her cell phone. She takes photos of minutia, like Anthony's feet on a rug. The little things. She has a good eye for them and developing her eye for photography is one of the few things she is able to do while stuck in her room all day. Caroline's sickness is limiting her future opportunities and Anthony is just a reminder of that. They talk and fight, and we see high school students being awkward teenagers: “Do not google ‘Walt Whitman sexy sex’ on my computer!”
I find myself guessing plots and spoilers while watching most productions and I greatly enjoy when I am taken off-guard. The unexpected is appealing. Between Ferguson, White, writer Lauren Gunderson, and director Sean Daniels, the culmination of each aspect at the climax of this production placed me into an incredible twister of surprise. Also, it needs to be noted that scenic designer Michael Carnahan has created a work of art on 59E59’s stage. The intricate mesh of posters, pillows, furniture, and set dressing items leaves you with a feast for your eyes. His attention to detail is not only merely interesting, but I found it consistently intriguing. With each new moment in the show, when subjects are mentioned I found my eye drawn to specific sections of the set that fit so perfectly, even to singular items like a stuffed penguin at the foot of the bed. Course after course of the visual feast tastes wonderful, with even the comforter on the bed alluding to the shell of a turtle as one of the characters hides beneath it.
The spectrum of references Gunderson utilizes is from a group of classic works. Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire,” John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” and Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” all make cameos in the plot. She ties in many genres of spectacular culture as a result of the way she writes her characters. Despite the characters of Caroline and Anthony differing quite a lot in their preferences, there seems to be a lot of teenage angst in both, delivered not only through text, but also communicated as a result of Ferguson and White’s pained expressions, abrupt awkward movements, and rapid speech patterns. It is exciting to watch them come full circle with their interests to be able to elevate themselves to a standard of high learning and exposure to previously unknown things.
Caroline lets Anthony know “Oh I’ve pummeled before,” and I must say, the show itself packs a good punch. My gut feels as though it has been walloped…but in a good way.
(I and You plays at 59E59 Theater, 59 East 59th Street, through February 28, 2016. The running time is an hour and a half with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays at 7; Wednesdays at 7; Thursdays at 7; Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $70 and are available at 59e59.org or call Ticket Central at 212-279-4200.)
I and You is written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Sean Daniels. Set Design is by Michael Carnahan. Lighting Design is by Brian J. Lilienthal. Sound Design is by David Remedios. Costume Design is by Jennifer Caprio. Stage Manager is Raynelle Wright.
The cast is Kayla Ferguson and Reggie D. White.