REVIEW // I and You at Geva Theatre Center
Winner of the 2014 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award is a stunner
When it was announced that Lauren Gunderson’s I and You won the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, I was ecstatic to see it was opening at Geva Theatre Center, in my home city, the following week.
I and You has already achieved strong accolades and a rolling world premiere in California, Maryland, and Indiana (it came to Rochester, in fact, after a month-long run at The Olney Theatre Center in Maryland). On Friday, the play opened at Geva to an eager crowd in the Fielding NextStage as part of Geva’s “Theatre and Race: A Community Conversation” series.
The premise of I and You is deceptively simple: two high school students from different backgrounds and social circles are assigned to work on an English presentation about Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Through the course of ninety minutes, they discover they are more alike than they expected.
Of course, everyone in the audience “knows this storyline.” Or at least, that’s what Gunderson will allow the audience to believe. It may even be what she wants them to believe—at first, anyway. But keep in mind; there are reasons that plays win awards.
Following the budget-conscious, ongoing trend for new plays, I and You has one set (current day, any city), no intermission, and a small cast.
Anthony (Thaddeus Fitzpatrick) is a straight-A student athlete with a stable home life and plenty of female admirers. Caroline (Rachael Tice) is missing most of senior year because she’s sick. The entire play takes place in Caroline’s bedroom, where Anthony appears one night to work on the long-procrastinated project. They decide the project’s emphasis will be the use of pronouns in Song of Myself.
This hour I tell things in confidence/I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.
These two lines from Song of Myself summarize the quickly moving dialogue and whirlwind emotions of the play. Fitzpatrick and Tice are a flawless duo—so flawless, in fact, that if one of them ever dropped a line the audience would be absolutely unaware. They tag back and forth, Fitzpatrick’s gentle charm playing off Tice’s brazen sarcasm. The actors embody high school seniors in all their YouTube-selfie-narcissistic glory, and Gunderson’s culturally informed writing makes it all work. Dan Conway’s set and Ivania Stack’s costume designs are so accurate that it feels like you’re looking in a suburban window rather than sitting in a darkened theater.
But the biggest reason for the awards and praise this play has received (and will continue to receive) becomes strikingly clear after you see it performed. There’s no way to reveal why I and You is phenomenal, because it happens so fast you almost don’t know what’s happening. As I sat there during the last ten minutes of the show—in disbelief—I was inwardly shouting, “THIS IS WHY, THIS IS WHAT MAKES THE WHOLE THING!” Director Eleanor Holdridge keeps a tight, smooth rein on the pace, which makes the ending even more stunning.
Before the show began, Geva awarded the fourth annual Essie Calhoun Diversity in the Arts Award to Thomas Warfield, a professor at NTID and the founder of PeaceArt International. Warfield had no idea his acceptance speech would tie in beautifully with the show, but it did nonetheless.
“We often think of diversity as something different from ourselves,” he said. “Diversity isn’t what is not us, but rather what is more of us.”
And that is exactly what I and You is all about. Don’t skip this one.
I and You
April 10 – 27
gevatheatre.org or 232-4382
Leah Stacy is the editor-in-chief of (585) magazine and a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.
*Photo by Stan Barouh