The power of Walt Whitman brings two high school students together in I & You | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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The power of Walt Whitman brings two high school students together in I & You

They sound their barbaric yawp through the living room.

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The premise of Lauren Gunderson's two-hander is remarkably simple: a socially isolated, housebound high school girl receives an unexpected visit from an only-slightly-less introverted classmate she barely knows. He brings the unwelcome news that the two of them have been assigned to collaborate on a class project—due tomorrow, OMG!—about Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself," a poem she has barely read and loathes. But from this Spartan setup, Gunderson spins a sweet, rich, nuanced story in which, over the course of 90 minutes, we watch two socially awkward adolescents open up and become a little less awkward. Gunderson's gift for writing compelling, realistic dialogue and creating relatable characters serves her well.

Under Bryan Wakefield's direction, Erica Bittner and Matty Robinson are utterly charming and quite believable as teenagers. They wisely avoid the easy stereotypes of teen behavior, preferring instead to plumb the richly complicated and contradictory depths of adolescent psychology.

This coproduction between Oak Park Festival Theatre and Open Door Theater isn't perfect. At 90 minutes without an intermission, the play feels a little long, though it is hard to tell if the problem is in the script—which could be trimmed—or in the performances, which still felt a little rough on opening night. The pace flags about 50 minutes in, but then picks up again. In the end, though, Gunderson, Wakefield, Bittner, Robinson, et al., win us over, sending us out into the night with these lines from Whitman echoing in our heads: "For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you."   v

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