I and You, LA
Matthew Hancock and Jennifer Finch in "I and You"
© The Fountain Theatre. Photo by Ed Krieger

I and You, LA

A tale of two struggling teens is redeemed more by the playwright's ear for adolescent edginess than her recourse to magic realism.

By Lauren Gunderson

Directed by Robin Larsen

With Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

The Fountain Theatre, Los Angeles

April 2 – June 14, 2015

One thing you can count on with the Fountain Theatre, they never put on a really bad play or production. On the other hand, not everything they do is perfect, or a crowd-pleaser. “I and You” falls in the latter category. There is a lot to like, but not for all comers.

Caroline (Jennifer Finch) is a high school student who has had a major illness since birth. She is now confined to her room, an adolescent nest feathered with a collage of photos, piles of clothes, and assorted posters. Anthony (Matthew Hancock), a fellow student, arrives unannounced to work with her on an assignment to explicate the meaning of the pronouns I and you in Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” He is greeted by a barrage of teenage abuse. Caroline has built an aggressive, defensive fortress to protect herself from her pain and the sympathy of others. It is not until halfway through the play that we discover just what ails this robust-appearing girl. Given Anthony’s dedication to their mutual assignment, and tolerance of her abuse, it is inevitable that their relationship will take a sharp turn for the better, the true nature of which will not be revealed until the last few minutes of magic realism.

Playwright Lauren Gunderson possesses an acute ear for adolescent, self-protecting edginess. Caroline can keep anyone at bay, including perfect Anthony: basketball star, good student, and loving child. These are two bright kids with well-developed vocabularies, a worldly wise attitude, and the naiveté that is inevitable at their age. Finch even more than Hancock is up to the task of making their dialogue real. As a matter of fact, should you yourself have one or more of these baffling creatures who has locked himself upstairs in a bedroom, this might be an excellent piece of live theater with which to lure him out. Now, on the other hand, if you have had enough of the drama and dark moods, 90 uninterrupted minutes might be more than you want to sign up for.

Could Gunderson have improved her material by tightening it up? I think so. But I doubt your teenager will mind. More difficult, for me, is the magic-realism ending, which does explain a lot of what has seemed off-putting earlier on. It completes the story arc and is emotionally gripping even if it strains the suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point. Your teenager will not mind.

Karen Weinstein

Los Angeles,
Weinstein is a clinical psychologist who teaches in the medical school at UCLA. She also holds a master's degree in Urban Studies and has a strong interest in history and architecture, as well as the theater.