I and You
By Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Kristen van Ginhoven
Playwright Lauren Gunderson’s I AND YOU, which launches Chester Theatre Company’s summer season, is a little marvel. With earnest and disarming quiet, Gunderson renders a poignant, incisive portrait of immortality from two ostensibly disparate topics — teenage relationships and the poetry of Walt Whitman. High-schooler Anthony arrives at the door of schoolmate Caroline, sick and housebound, looking for a partner for his assignment about Whitman’s ”Leaves of Grass.” As Caroline’s aggressive, chip-on-the shoulder attitude gives way to Anthony’s kind persistence, Gunderson unobtrusively (almost imperceptibly) introduces tiny bits about what brings them together. With equal subtlety Gunderson incorporates how Caroline and Anthony’s mutual study of Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and other writings elicits an awareness of self and the other, the “I and you.”
Like a master-story teller, Gunderson only reveals the consequence of Caroline and Anthony’s relationship until the final, moving moments of this intermission-less, 90 minute two-hander. Credit to director Kristen van Ginhoven who, despite some unevenness in the script, keeps action apace, while preserving enigma of plot and characters — no easy balancing act. Newcomers Paul Pontrelli and Lilli Hokama bring a fresh, almost naïve, adolescence to the roles, which converts, not painlessly, to a gentle awakening to adulthood. I AND YOU epitomizes Chester Theater Groups’ mission to present powerful, intimate stories with economy of production and bounty of spirit On its tiny stage, in a small auditorium, in a small town hall in the Massachusetts woods, there is, as Whitman sought, a little world “clear and sweet” for the soul to experience.
I and You on stage at the Chester Theatre in Chester, Massachusetts through July 9. For tickets and information consult the Berkshire Edge calendar or contact the Chester Theatre Company at 413-354-7771.