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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Olney's 'I and You' is unforgettable

Rachael Tice and Thaddeus Fitzpatrick in Lauren Gunderson's I and You now on stage at Olney Theatre/photo by Stan Barouh

It hums along at a great pace but the ending will leave you gasping.

While you predict the last scene, be ready to drop jaw.

I thought it was only for teens and college students. I was wrong.

The Olney Theatre Center has gloriously exploded in production:  The King and I, Chorus Line, and now, I and You

Jason Loewith, Olney's artistic director, beamed when he talked before and after the production about his focus on new plays and female playwrights, including Lauren Gunderson who wrote I and You and was on hand Saturday night to witness the glowing reception her play received by a stunned crowd.

Loewith proudly announced I and You is a finalist for the 2014 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award.  After you see it, you'll know why and that it will win.

Loewith noted that theatres have to concentrate on sure-fire winners to produce income which enables theatres to survive, thrive, and experiment with new material like I and You.

Rachael Tice and Thaddeus Fitzpatrick in Lauren Gunderson's I and You now on stage at Olney Theatre/photo by Stan Barouh

And back to it: The plot captures an afternoon in the lives of two teenagers, the entire cast, who grapple with the issues of today and always:  self, others, purpose, life and death.  Starring in their conversation is a gift for English teachers everywhere:  Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.  (Were copies sold in the lobby?) The youngsters use the book to read sections to each other while working on a joint Whitman project for a class.

Social media is spot-on.  The girl, Caroline (Rachael Tice) is ill and confined to her home.  She texts her mother downstairs. Anthony (Thaddeus Fitzpatrick), a high school classmate, drops in, seeking help on their project, and his poster reveals he needs it, all right. Maybe a fourth-grader crafted it.

That Caroline likes Elvis movies (!), John Lennon and Jerry Lee Lewis (!), and Anthony favors Miles Davis and John Coltrane without any mention of current artists that I heard, is a reach to older audiences, I suppose.

The play of just 80 minutes takes place in three scenes in Caroline's jammed and "messy" (she says; she don't know what "messy" is) bedroom of books, pictures, posters, red bedding, and a "turtle," the significance of which I still ponder.

Their conversation is so today and so "teen talk." They say what adults wonder about, but don't state or ask.  For a while, Caroline is damaged goods and seeking help.  The roles reverse, and Anthony becomes the wounded.  They call each other "weird."  She calls him "Senator."  He calls her "Senator Shut-In."  They banter and knock each other. She talks exactly like every teenaged girl I've ever been around.

Some parts were just "weird," too, like Caroline showing no curiosity about the dead classmate's name or that her mother never showed up or communicated, wondering what was going on upstairs in her daughter's bedroom where a strange boy had parked himself for hours.

Towards the end the script began to drift a little, but then...

I and You is director Eleanor Holdridge's first play at the Olney where she skilfully managed the actors who obviously revel in their roles.

After the play, Ms. Tice and Mr. Fitzpatrick excitedly talked a little about their backgrounds and how jubilant they are to be at the Olney. For the role Ms. Tice auditioned in her hometown, New York, where Mr. Fitzpatrick is a transplant from the University of Alabama where he studied theatre. This spring Ms. Tice makes her film debut in Slider.

They are such a twosome and will travel next to Rochester to act in the play there, another stop in the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere.

For her terrific and special effects, lighting designer Nancy Schertler gets special kudos.  Those dark colored bulbs in the beginning didn't fool me. I was hoping they would light up sooner or later. 

Other important people in the production:  Dan Conway, scenic designer, Ivania Stack, costumes,  Matthew M. Nielson, sound, Becky Reed, stage manager, and Amy Marshall, managing director.  Bravo!

What: I and You

When:  Extended until March 30, 2014

Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832

How much: Tickets start at $48.50.

Parking:  Abundant, free, and on-site

For more information:301-924-3400

For more area productions and reviews, click DC Metro Theater Arts.

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