Play offers contemporary reading of Whitman

Mad Cow Theatre Company’s unique performance of  I and You by playwright Lauren Gunderson provides a unique perspective on love through December 14.

I and YouI and YouThe bed is the first thing one will notice when he or she walks into the small, intimate black box theater. The bed continues to pull attention throughout the entirety of Mad Cow Theatre Company’s performance of I and You by contemporary playwright Lauren Gunderson. As the play’s two teenage characters dance and interact in the intimate setting of the expressive Caroline’s bedroom, it is the cluttered bed that serves as the central focus for its inherent interplay of two overarching themes: sex and death.

The play begins with Anthony’s excited entrance into Caroline’s bedroom. Partnered together on an English assignment, he is the intelligent overachiever, and she is the sickly pessimist. Caroline, who has a terminal illness and is in need of a liver transfer, is disengaged with her academics—rather, she finds excitement and beauty in common millennial pastimes like texting, tweeting, and iPhone photography.

And while Caroline may seem like a contrived stereotype of the narcissist generation, Anthony’s character is even more so one-dimensional: a Pop-Tart eating, basketball playing, popular high school student. And yet, these characters are people we know, or at least knew in high school, and, despite their initial shallowness, they become authentically recognizable.

After the painfully awkward first 20 minutes of I and You, Caroline and Anthony finally begin to work on their assignment, a critical analysis of Walt Whitman’s use of pronouns in his epic poem “Song of Myself.” Caroline, disinterested at first, eventually warms to Anthony’s enthusiasm toward the poem. As they attempt to work on their project’s disastrously designed poster, their conversation blends with thoughts on Whitman’s insight, the recognition of our own mortality, the joy of music, and even the hint of love.

Like Whitman’s poem, I and You is a brilliantly self-aware piece of writing. It inherits the historic, patriotic writer’s themes with style and aptitude. The play is best understood as a collage of thoughts and perspectives on the American condition, just like “Song of Myself”—the metaphor of the collage is directly referenced as a self-descriptive term by Caroline in Act One. Both Karleigh Chase and Mike Mitchell Jr. deliver an engaging performance, which is reinforced by their physical interactions and movements; watching them dance around the close, intimate set is a beautifully crafted piece of choreography from director Aradhana Tiwari (who guest-directed A Clean House at the Annie Russell Theatre last February).

I and You runs through December 14 in Mad Cow’s Zehngebot-Stonerock Theater. The play is truly an innovative and enchanting reading of Whitman’s original work, reminding us of his haunting last line that we are simply stopped somewhere waiting for you.

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