by Christopher Halleron
photos by Joe Epstein
Life can suck. Make the most of it.
That theme is fairly common in the realms of stage or literature. Notably, Walt Whitman wrote a bit about that in his ever-evolving masterpiece, Leaves of Grass. Whitman’s initial 1855 work came about during a period of unprecedented divisiveness, only to be revised after the U.S. Civil War and again and again until his ultimate “Deathbed Edition” in 1892.
Mile Square Theatre presents Lauren Gunderson‘s “I and You” at a similarly gloomy time, serving as a reminder to appreciate all we do have, and focus on the small things in life—things we take for granted… which we absolutely shouldn’t.
For some, the prospect of attending what appears on the surface to be a teen drama may be a bit daunting. This is where an enduring faith in Director Chris O’Connor (Mile Square Theatre Founder and Artistic Director) is rewarded, as the production is an absolute gem that will surely “produce joy” for audiences of all ages.
With just two characters, the play begins with break-neck banter between Caroline and Anthony—delivered at a mind-numbing Gilmore Girls pace. Volley after volley, it’s tough to imagine how they’ll be able to maintain this dialogue for the 80-minute production. Yet gradually, Caroline (Simone Grossman) and Anthony (Roland Lane) navigate the relationship through the initial trauma, and their interactions become much more fluid.
Caroline is housebound due to a potentially terminal illness, but Anthony needs to work with her on an English class project covering Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. In the ensuing acts, Gunderson manages to take the staggering profundity of Whitman and make it intimately applicable—transplanting it into the cluttered bedroom and abstract soul of an angst-driven teenage girl. Grossman’s precise performance makes Caroline unmistakably contemporary and delightfully real. Meanwhile Lane’s likeability as Anthony is immediate, and his awkward charm sustains the character’s reassuring positivity throughout.
The story moves along with some significant twists and turns—some of which may raise an incredulous eyebrow. Hang in there… because right when it feels like it’s sliding along into some sort of formulaic, saccharine Afterschool Special, “I and this mystery, here we stand.”
Gunderson’s “I and You” is a surgically written character study that is so much more than an ode to Whitman’s epic work. Mile Square Theatre’s production is superbly acted and expertly directed. This is a play that is sure to stay with you long after the lights go up—getting “under your bootsoles.”
Yes, life can suck—but we’re still here. As gloomy as the future may look as we hide under the covers, our futures are still unwritten. Take solace in that, and take every yawp we can out of life… before it’s gone.
I and You began performances on Wednesday, January 30. It runs at Mile Square Theater (1400 Clinton Street, Hoboken) until Sunday, February 24.
Opening night and MST’s Season Opener Party is February 1.
CLICK HERE for ticket information.