Lauren Gunderson’s two-person, ninety-minute one-act tells the story of two teens who forge an unlikely connection. There’s sick-at-home loner Caroline (Natalie Izlar) and athlete Anthony (Gerald Jones III); their story begins when Anthony comes to visit Caroline at her home and, at least ostensibly, to get her help with a project on Walt Whitman. Displaying a fiery passion for Whitman, Anthony soon convinces the reluctant Caroline to help him. The two slowly bond, both over Whitman’s work and over their surprising need for each other, all leading up to a twist ending that divulges the true depth of their newfound connection.
Tightly and intimately directed by Jeff Storer, this fast-moving piece is made particularly strong by the two gifted young people in its cast. Izlar is beautiful to watch- easily navigating her character’s vulnerability and rebellious spiritedness. Jones characterization is (appropriately) more subtle but equally powerful. He lends a calmness and sagacity to his youthful character, which plays nicely off of Caroline’s immaturity.
All of the interactions between the two play out in Caroline’s room, which is brought to life by set designer Derrick Ivey. Ivey tucks all kinds of “teenage paraphernalia” around the set, making it completely believable as the room of a teenage girl.
Unfortunately, much of the believability ends there. Gunderson’s script, while entertaining and at times insightful, falters somewhat in that area. While the writing is often smart- taking jabs at modern culture and the disconnections it has created between people- some of the dialogue feels forced and unnatural- like an adult trying to talk like a teen. And, while the connections to Whitman’s poetry and the use of said poetry as both plot device and symbolism is interesting, even brilliant at times, something still feels missing from the script. Somewhat predictable and heavy-handed, even the “twist ending” isn’t anything too innovative. In fact, if not for the clever Whitman device, the play would be little more than typical teen movie fare. That’s not to say that young people won’t connect with the piece; in fact, they’re likely to be its target audience. For most adults, though, the play, story-wise, is only mildly entertaining.
Fortunately, this particular production is saved by the gifted direction and acting, which lends more intensity and provocativeness to the story than the script itself allots.
Manbites Dog Theater presents I AND YOU at 8:15 p.m. Dec. 11-13, 2 p.m. Dec. 14, and 8:15 p.m. Dec. 17-20 at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $10 weeknights and $20 Friday-Sunday, except $5 weeknights and $10 weekends for students 18+ with ID and a $2 discount for seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel.
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or https://manbites.tixato.com/buy.
2014-15 SEASON: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2014-15-season/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/, https://www.facebook.com/manbitestheater, and https://twitter.com/ManbitesTheater.
I and You (2012 play): http://iandyouplay.tumblr.com/ (official website).
Lauren Gunderson (San Francisco, CA playwright and screenwriter): http://laurengunderson.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/LaurenMGunderson (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/LalaTellsAStory (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lauren_Gunderson (Wikipedia).
Jeff Storer (Manbites Dog artistic director and full professor of the practice in the Duke University Department of Theater Studies): https://www.facebook.com/jeff.storer.9 (Facebook page) and https://theaterstudies.duke.edu/people/jeff-storer (Duke Theater Studies bio).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.