Sunday, May 27, 2018

I and You—Artists Rep.—SW Portland

Celebrate Yourself

   This compelling story of love is written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by JoAnn Johnson.  It is playing at Artists Rep., 1515 SW Morrison St., through June 17th.  For more information, go to their site at  

     What are the components for Love?  Poets, writers, philosophers and religions have been grappling with that question for ages.  No definitive answer, of course.  But Walt Whitman, with his long poetic essay on Life, “Leaves of Grass,” with his songs to himself, does contend that, before loving someone else, a person must first love themselves then, I assume, they are capable of giving and receiving love to/from others.  This is a love story then, focusing on Whitman and his words and, in the end result, they connect with these novice lovers in a most unique way.

     Caroline (Emily Eisele) is a solitary teen, living much of her life trapped in her bedroom, as she has always been a sickly child and had to content herself with her own world of arts and crafts, and music and the internet.  She does have friends, of sorts, in her cat, Bitter, her photographs, and her pet turtle, whose shell glows in the dark, like the distant stars.  She, like her turtle, has formed a hard shell to keep out the trappings of the outside world, but is very vulnerable underneath. 
     Caroline relies on the electronic world to keep her informed, is in love with rock and roll, especially Jerry Lewis Lewis and Elvis and even texts her Mom downstairs when she wants something, rather than risking a trip into the outer, darker chambers beneath, preferring her familiar, more colorful, world at the top of the stairs.  But this world is about to be shattered with the arrival of another young student, Anthony (Blake Stone), who says he is her project partner on creating a display and speech on the writer, Walt Whitman, for their American Lit. class, even though she does her assignments via the electronic medium.

     Anthony is a bit more subdued than she, likes sports and is a lover of Jazz, especially Coltrane and plays the Sax.  Their worlds tear at each other but seem to reach an uneasy truce when delving into Whitman’s words.  They are truly opposites in so many ways…and yet….?  The interplay between them is priceless and the conclusion is something you won’t see coming.  In short, you’ll have to experience it for yourselves and, I guarantee, you won’t be disappointed.

     Gunderson is an amazing writer, as she teases you along what you think might be a familiar path, then turns the tables on you, as to where it ends up, but realizing that it really does all connect, like a giant, jig-saw puzzle.  Johnson has carefully chosen and modulated the cast and their performances, so that both humor and tears are brought out, letting us know that this is untested territory.  She is also a fine actor in her own right, so knows the journey that creators must travel to master a character.

     The set, by Tim Stapleton, is a wonder, all bright, Spring-like colors, mish-mashed across the walls, “like bits of a shattered rainbow.”  And the actors, Stone and Eisele, are perfect for their parts.  They go through many changes in moods through the story and are very believable in each of these incarnations.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else in these roles.

     I highly recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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