Forward Theater Company’s I and You opens with Caroline, a severely ill teenager, using her hair comb to threaten an unexpected visitor… for ten minutes. This sets the unbearable pace for the three act play, filled with uninsightful commentary on Walt Whitman, teen angst, and misplaced criticisms of the current generation’s dependence on technology.
Caroline has been out of school for some time now, shut away in her bedroom and awaiting an organ donor. Then, her classmate Anthony whips open her bedroom door, bearing waffle fries and babbling lines from Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”: “I and this mystery here we stand." This quickly settles into the predictable push and pull of the two students falling in love with Whitman, life, and each other. The night rolls onward until the play concludes with a dramatic turn of events.
All photos by Zane Williams.
Alistair Sewell, in the role of Anthony, is the driving force behind the play. His comic timing and physicality shine through the clunky dialogue. His personable nature is one of the only saving graces on the stage. Paired with him is Chantae Miller, as Caroline, who doesn’t rise to the same level of maturity. Miller plays Caroline with little more than flat aggression, aggression which lacks any depth of vulnerability. Her Caroline doesn’t show any signs of being ill, and so when the script calls for fits of pain and sudden breakdowns, they seem out of place and sophomoric. Miller omits realism and relatability, and together she and Sewell don’t have chemistry.
The entire play progresses from within Caroline’s bedroom. Scenic and lighting designer Noele Stollmack does not leave a detail unaccounted for. The stage is blanketed by a healthy mix of childhood stuffed animals and current art projects. Every corner is filled with clutter, much of which becomes important during the performance. Some of the elements in the set that suggest hospitalization are inconsistent and at times distracting, but are aesthetically pleasing nonetheless.
Stollmack’s lighting is cozy and delightful in the first two acts, using curtained full-length windows, scattered lamps, and warm overhead fixtures. In the third act, however, the lighting pools shrink and suggest the days’ turn to night. These shrunken down pools are visually appealing, but as the scene takes over, actors are often left in complete darkness.
The author of I and You, Lauren Gunderson, takes numerous themes and forces them together through fragmented scenes. The plot is loosely bound by Walt Whitman’s poem, “Leaves of Grass”, as this is the assignment that brings Anthony to Caroline’s house in the first place. Despite the students having spent all night studying this complex piece, their final presentation of it doesn’t draw any real conclusion about the poem; it is a mere summary of what is plainly in the text. This reflects the rest of the themes in this scattered show rather directly. While Gunderson continually uses dialogue that points out Caroline’s absorption in technology, the play only vaguely, if ever, addresses the actual setbacks of a technology based lifestyle. Director Jennifer Uphoff Gray doesn’t even have Caroline using her phone constantly, which raises the question: why bother?
Gunderson’s I and You, under Gray’s direction, is nothing more than a series of half-conceived concepts, all drawn together with clichés. No amount of aesthetics or laughable one liners can write over the sins of a mismatched cast and a weak script.