By EMILY KLING
It’s hard to be 17. To be full of angst, uncertainty and covered in acne; to be stuck with some childlike tendencies; to desperately crave attention while simultaneously needing to be left alone. Although teenage years are exhausting, however, they can be a fun age too — full of excitement and possibilities. Unfortunately, as it would turn out, it’s really just tiring to watch. At least this was the case in Lauren Gunderson’s one-act I and You, opening this Thursday at the Kitchen Theatre.
Directed by Emily Jackson, I and You tells the story of two high school seniors — the chronically ill Caroline (Anna Stefanic) and the charming, athletic Anthony (Ian Duff) — working on an English project the night before the deadline. They have to discuss the use of pronouns in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass — a project that Anthony loves and Caroline resists. Caroline’s reluctance is fair, because Anthony sprung the project on her only a day before the deadline, and she would have had no way of knowing about the assignment as she has been out of school for months due to her illness. What is really not fair, however, is that the audience has to experience the dull conversation and the uninspired character of Caroline for the first 50 minutes of the play.
The dialogue brings the unfortunate seventeen-year-old phenomenon of “trying too hard” to the stage. In telling the story of two high school seniors, I don’t understand why Caroline feels like such a tantrum-throwing seven-year-old. I don’t know who is to blame for her character because sometimes it is the fault of the poorly written dialogue but at other times, the portrayal was hammy. Stefanic’s performance becomes monotone at times as she snaps almost every line for most of the play. I don’t necessarily believe that her serious illness (she needs an organ transplant) explains or excuses this and it would be nice to see more range in her character. It causes a slight eye-roll when Caroline’s favorite stuffed animal is a turtle, complete with a hard exterior to protect a fragile inside. She also loves her phone, photography and her cat. It makes you wish the play either made her interesting or embraced that she was a painfully ordinary girl. Luckily, Stefanic salvages what there is towards the end of the play, giving her character more emotional subtlety in the final moments of the story.
On the positive side, Anthony comes across very well. Ian Duff captures the seventeen-year-old ethos perfectly. You feel how Anthony is confident, exceptionally so, for his age. You get the sense he has an abundance of friends who probably shout his name in the halls. Yet, despite all of this he embodies the contradictions of being that age as part of his charm is his awkward stance, and he is right on the cusp of growing up. A lover of jazz, basketball and Walt Whitman, Anthony’s character is multilayered without feeling cliché.
The discussionS of Whitman’s work are pleasant but redundant. Being fairly unfamiliar with his work, I immediately wanted to read Whitman’s poetry when I left the theatre. The show’s emphasis on the power of poetry is a well-articulated theme and the most enjoyable moments throughout the first two thirds of the play are when the teenagers explore Whitman’s words and message. It happens too much — but at least it’s interesting.
Anthony repeats a line from one of Whitman’s poems throughout the play: “I and this mystery, here we stand.” And it is the unexpected mysteries of this play that ultimately save the story. Twists and turns and secrets evolve, and when they do, it’s a great relief that there is more to this play than its mediocre dialogue. It gives the show more meaning and almost makes sitting through the rest of this 95-minute play feel like a fair trade-off. Is it worth it to sit through a whole play that is a bore for the first third, interesting enough in the middle and great for the remainder? Well — “I and this mystery, here we stand.”
Emily Kling is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.