Off-Broadway Theater Review: I AND YOU (59E59)

by Dmitry Zvonkov on January 31, 2016

in Theater-New York

Post image for Off-Broadway Theater Review: I AND YOU (59E59)

I AND THEM

The performers’ abundant charm can’t overcome the script’s shortcomings in I and You, Lauren Gunderson’s tedious comedic drama about two high schoolers attempting a class project in which they analyze Walt Whitman’s use of pronouns in Leaves of Grass. The premise of this Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award winner is ripe for failure: What valuable insights into Whitman could two unremarkable suburban teenagers have? And what does them pasting the poet’s picture and quotes with a sprinkling of glitter to a piece of cardboard have to do with his poetry? Perhaps if the kids’ observations revealed some consequential truths about the kids themselves, truths to make us engage and sympathize with them, Ms. Gunderson’s concept might have worked. But a lack of real obstacles and the absence of stakes makes most of the things the two characters say feel like background noise.

Kayla Ferguson & Reggie D. White in I AND YOU, written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Sean Daniels, at 59E59 Theaters - photo by Carol Rosegg. Kayla Ferguson & Reggie D. White in I AND YOU, written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Sean Daniels, at 59E59 Theaters - photo by Carol Rosegg

Caroline (Kayla Ferguson) has been holed up in her room for a while with a life-threatening illness when Anthony (Reggie D. White) suddenly appears, uninvited, holding a plate of cookies and a folded piece of cardboard. After the initial, predictable, somewhat forced back and forth, “WhoaWhoaWhoa, what the hell! WHAT DO YOU WANT?” “I’m Anthony…from school…” (this continues for a good 15 minutes) they get down to the business of arts and crafts, Whitman, and getting to know each other. Were that there was something worthwhile to discover about these two. But Ms. Gunderson’s characters have nothing to offer. They’re not even characters really but mouths for the author to load with her meditations. Anthony loves Coltrane, Caroline loves Jerry Lee Lewis performing “Great Balls of Fire.” Give me a break.

Kayla Ferguson and Reggie D. White in I AND YOU, written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Sean Daniels, at 59E59 Theaters - photo by Carol Rosegg. Kayla Ferguson and Reggie D. White in I AND YOU, written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Sean Daniels, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Perhaps if director Sean Daniels treated the students’ pronouncements—such as when Anthony, speaking of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” says “It’s his version of…prayer”—with a little irony, the show might have been more tolerable, even entertaining. But his straightforward, surface approach only exacerbates the play’s failings. And although the big revelation at the end—accompanied by a marvelous transformation of Michael Carnahan’s set—succeeds in pushing emotional buttons, it’s little more than a gotcha moment, which, in retrospect, renders the preceding spectacle even more vacuous.

Kayla Ferguson and Reggie D. White in I AND YOU, written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Sean Daniels, at 59E59 Theaters - photo by Carol Rosegg Kayla Ferguson and Reggie D. White in I AND YOU, written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Sean Daniels, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

photos by Carol Rosegg

I and You
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th St
Tues-Thurs at 7; Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 3
ends on February 28, 2016
for tickets, call 212.279.4200 or visit 59E59

Leave a Comment