October 15, 2020
Touching story, unexpected ending will enthrall in I and You
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
The Des Moines Community Playhouse continues to balance its theatrical leadership role with the unprecedented impact that the current pandemic has had on its industry. With a repertory schedule of Weekend Comedy and I and You, the Playhouse will present alternating weekends of live theatre in the tightly controlled environment of their mainstage hall. Safeguards are in place, patrons maintain masked status throughout the no-intermission presentation (about 90 minutes) – with brief unveilings to sip or munch on concessions. Shaking a little rust off of the collective audience protocols, the small crowd quickly released months of pent-up cultural starvation, enthusiastic appreciating the high production value presented in the second of this twin bill of plays.
I and You, by Lauren Gunderson, is a richly textured story delivered by two exceptional actors. Gunderson’s story tells the story of an uninvited student visiting another student in her home. Caroline (played with mercurial manipulation by Natalie Grote) reluctantly allows Anthony (with Clifton Antoine bringing a wonderfully building arc to his role) into her bedroom. Caroline’s mother apparently had allowed this, and Anthony needs Caroline’s help to complete an assignment about Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Anthony actually will not pass without Caroline’s help. He is caught between this position of extreme need and the fact that Caroline has been confined to home due an illness that has caused her to be tagged as a kind of social pariah at school.
Director Katy Merriman deftly guides the story through ebbs and flows of interplay with her dynamic duo. The pacing of this story quickly draws the audience in, delivering a captivating story of the evolving relationship of Caroline and Anthony. Merriman beautifully allow her actors to have the freedom to honestly develop their characters within the framework of her vision for telling this story. She understands the veil that Gunderson drafts her script under, and builds this story to a tender, jolting surprise ending that likely will catch everyone off guard.
The threads of Walt Whitman delivered through the show bind so much together. Grote and Antoine opine about the meanings infused in Whitman’s verse, sharing with a believable youth-like verve. As more of each person’s situation and needs are revealed, their relationship becomes more complex. The audience becomes completely invested in wherever the outcome is leading it, and these two fine performers are exceptional guides to that final payoff.
To share how this story ends would be doing you, the theatre patron, and the Playhouse a disservice. This production is one to savor in all of its subtleties and twists, and to tell the ending in advance of experiencing the play would be unfair, both to those who should plan on experiencing this brilliant theatrical offering and to the show’s producers and cast. Hopefully, we have learned a little more about delayed versus instant gratification through the isolation that the current pandemic has forced on us. This is one such example in which to wait, then experience in person, I and You will be a delectable theatrical savoring that will have you glowing well after the final curtain.
The Culture Buzz theatre reviews are written by professional writers to inform and enlighten. To receive weekly newsletters, email TheCultureBuzz@gmail.com or visit www.TheCultureBuzz.com. The Culture Buzz is a weekly broadcast/streaming arts & entertainment collection of news and conversations, airing Wednesdays 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM Central Time on KFMG 98.9 FM and streaming at www.kfmg.org.