Keenan Carver and Kai Nashalie in I & YOU at the Henegar Center. Photo by Dana Niemeier Photography.
By GEORGETTE SPELVIN
So much to write, so little space.
“I and You,” which will be presented through Feb. 18 Upstairs at the Henegar Center, is a play by Lauren Gunderson, a playwright from San Francisco who, at only 36 years old, is one of the most produced American playwrights alive.
In 2014, Gunderson wrote “I and You,” about a pair of teenagers, one of whom (the boy) barges into the girl’s room with a plate of cookies, a piece of poster board and a copy of “Leaves of Grass,” about which he must complete an assignment.
That should tell you something right there: Any play with even the slightest hint of Walt Whitman, celebrator of his own self and expounder on life, death, rebirth, nature, time, mysticism and most things cosmically-conscious. It’s going to get heavy.And it does, sugared with good-natured pokes at contemporary culture (she won’t get off her phone, and the Facebook references are cute) and things high-schoolish.
She has a serious liver ailment and so is what we used to call an invalid, but an extremely bright, confrontational, photo-taking, not overly girly invalid, who lives in her cluttered room. He’s a neat, poetry-loving, Pop Tart-munching basketball player who’s not about to be called for a player foul, either.
They spar. They philosophize. They dig Elvis (her) and Coltrane (him). They spar some more. She grasps Whitman, something some of us have been trying to do for half a century. They speak of life and death. They spar again.
A beautiful friendship blooms. But guess what? “I and You” does not devolve into hot sex, forbidden longing or even raw language, and the only culture clashes it explores are the ones felt by people of the age and experiences of Anthony and Caroline, the protagonists.
Furthermore, the fact that they are different races is immaterial. Good. It’s about time.
But there’s far more to this play than give-and-take about “Song of Myself” (It’s the part of “Leaves of Grass” that is largely quoted in the play); there are terrific performances by two clever young actors who get their characters.
Keenan Carver is no unknown quantity at Henegar or in the area, and it’s a pity we don’t see more of him because he can do it all, from the singing and dancing of “Smoky Joe’s Café” to the teenaged angst of “I and You.” He is absolutely terrific; wonderfully restrained and tremendously empathetic. Local stages could use more of him.
Kai Nashalie is less-known hereabouts, but she could get there because she also refuses to go over the top with her homebound student, nor does she make a whining caricature of the sick girl who learns about Whitman’s “yawp.” We’ll see Nashalie again too, no doubt.
Carver and Nashalie have a lot on their plates in “I and You” because he and she are the play and it should be physically and emotionally exhausting. But they’re up to it. Pam Harbaugh’s direction does not allow for less.
Go see “I and You.”
Bring high school students. Let them see a play about teenagers for whom it’s not all about sex, drugs and video games, but takes them for intelligent human beings who really do see and think beyond the usual crap.
Go see “I and You.”
SIDE O’ GRITS: I & You runs through Feb. 25 at the Henegar. It performs 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $26 general, $23 adults and seniors and $16 students. $3 handling fee per ticket. The Henegar is at 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne. Call 321-723-8698, visit Henegar.org or click onto their ad.