Monday, May 7, 2018


Reviewed by James Karas

Lauren Gunderson has brought together three unlikely elements to produce a delicate, moving and intriguing play called I and You. The first two parts of the play are two teenagers, Caroline (Abby Weisbrot) and Anthony (Jake Runeckles) who meet for the first time. The other part is the poetry Walt Whitman.

Anthony arrives at Caroline’s bedroom, unexpected and uninvited for the purpose of doing a school project on the poetry of Whitman. They are classmates but don’t know each other and they are poles apart. She appears tough, unfriendly, combative and miserable. She has not been to school for a long time and we find out that she is seriously ill and practically a prisoner in her bedroom.
Anthony is outgoing, popular and athletic. He loves Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and thinks that Caroline’s innate artistic ability can help him get a high mark. She knows nothing about Whitman. He wants to do a critical analysis of Whitman’s use of the pronouns I and You in Leaves of Grass but cannot make any headway against Caroline’s resentment of him. He makes a small breakthrough when he reads her the lines about the spotted hawk swooping by. The sound if not the meaning of the verses get to her. Through the bickering and snarls, art and the poetry of Whitman are used by Gunderson as devices to facilitate communication.

As the dialogue progresses we discover facts about the two teenagers, their relationship changes and Whitman is always present in the background or the foreground. Gunderson writes sensitively and adroitly about the people and the literary device that she employs and the result is an engrossing and captivating play that stands with its mystery “Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical” to quote Whitman.

For the seriously ill and probably dying Caroline, Whitman can be a provider of comfort, Anthony tells her. He was not afraid of death but stood up to it and, to freely paraphrase, spits in its eye. As the discussion of their lives and poetry continue, Caroline takes over and she asserts her understanding of the last lines of the poem where the poet becomes part of the earth, he bequeaths his body “to the dirt to grow from the grass I love” and he will “stop somewhere waiting for you.” Caroline feels that “you” is Whitman’s direct reference to her. What a beautiful connection between poetry and life.

Weisbrot and Runeckles give stellar performances as typical teenagers. Completely atypical teenagers, sensitive, confused and in the end indefinable and mysterious. Marc Bondy handles an apparently simple script that is quite complex with dexterity and precision.

If the lead up to the final scene is tantalizing and marvelous, the final scene will leave you astonished. You will leave the theatre with many thoughts but the first word to come out of your mouth may well be “wow.”

I AND YOU by Lauren Gunderson, direct by Marc Bondy ran from April 19 to 29, 2018 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.
(Circumstances caused inexcusable delay in reviewing the show. Another mea culpa and my eternal abode is guaranteed to be where there is no air conditioning.)

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