The University of Alabama at Huntsville Theatre Department is running a powerful, touching, thought-provoking production of I and You, closing today, in their Morton Hall Black Box Theatre. Call ahead for reservations if your schedule has room this afternoon, because there aren’t a lot of seats.
I and You was written by Lauren Gunderson, a relatively new shooting star in the playwrighting world. In 2016 she was apparently the most produced playwright in the United States, and a viewing of I and You shows why. She crafts very honest dialogue, for characters in real situations, and keeps you guessing about where the show is going. On the surface, this play is about two teenagers doing homework, but it’s much deeper than that. “Caroline” is a senior in high school, stuck at home waiting for a liver transplant, and “Anthony” stops by unexpectedly to work on a school project with her. Over the next 90 minutes (no intermission), they connect on several levels, without the playwright taking the obvious dive into romance. The project they discuss is a presentation for English class about Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” in his book Leaves of Grass. By playing with pronouns, Whitman explored the meaning and significance of “you” and “I” in the world, and how we are all interconnected. Gunderson does the same thing with this play. She helps us think about all the ways we connect with each other and everyone around us. On one level, it’s an exploration about what it is that makes us “click” with certain individuals. It’s not our sicknesses, it’s not our work; it’s the things we are passionate about. Those people who love the things we love…those are the people we feel closest to, sometimes in ways we don’t even realize.
The Director, Amy Guerin, has done a wonderful job with this show. In her first year on the faculty at UAH, one hopes she sticks around for awhile. The show is very tightly staged, and it has to be. The Black Box theater, in this thrust configuration, is very intimate, with no audience member more than a couple rows away from the action, and not a bad seat in the house. The blocking keeps things moving, so that no one feels unable to see what is happening, without feeling like the movements are forced for that purpose. Most importantly, with a show like this, where it’s all about very real, honest reactions to everyday situations and dialogue, the audience can spot artificiality in a split-second, but this felt like an actual pair of teenagers on whom we were spying.
In the process of this exploration, we watch two very good portrayals of teenagers. Savannah Rutherford, as the ailing, but very typical teenage girl, “Caroline”; and Bakari Prigg, as the basketball-playing and Whitman-loving “Anthony”, were both excellent. This is probably the best work I’ve seen from them, and together they made this a very smooth, enjoyable evening. With a teenager in my own house, and a number of nieces and nephews, one of my reactions was, “I totally know these kids”. There were two casts for this show, but I’m sure both pairs were equally excellent.
The technical elements were just what the production called for. Technically, the show is a bit deceptive, with things that appear to be mistakes, later being perfectly explained in the script. The set, designed by David Harwell, admirably portrays a stereotypical teenage girl’s room, and has more to the design than meets the eye upon entering the theatre. Kudos to MJ Segal, the Stage Manager, for the tight cues on the lights and sound throughout. Laura Happel’s lighting, and Johnna Doty’s sound, both show their true power at the climax of the show, helping to leave the audience in stunned silence at the final blackout.
I deeply regret the circumstances which have delayed the release of this review, because there’s only one more chance to see the production. If you wondering whether the show is worth a couple hours of your time, it absolutely is. Check it out this afternoon at 2:30, in Morton Hall on the UAH campus.
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