FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Playwrights can take us any place.
Nimble-minded playwrights go to unknowns and make them seem real.
That’s an obscure thought, but describing Lauren Gunderson’s “I and You” is problematic without giving too much away.
The play is off-the-beaten path for Peninsula Players Theatre – two characters and heady – as the company puts on an economical season with the influences of COVID-19 still around.
Lauren Gunderson is smart as a whip. Her plays radiate knowledge – about people, behaviors, science, art, emotions, music, intellect and a kind of fearlessness. In “I and You,” suddenly she takes a side trip to the artistically ephemeral qualities of playing saxophone. And, somehow, that fits into her storytelling:
Caroline, alone in her room, gets an unexpected visitor, Anthony. The two are high school classmates of sorts. She doesn’t attend due to chronic illness but still is headed toward graduation because she can do the necessary “home work.”
Anthony arrives saying the two have a collaborative project due, an analysis of poet Walt Whitman’s dense “Leaves of Grass.” The deadline is imminent, Anthony says, and they have to work on it through the night.
In the searching and researching by Caroline and Anthony, meanings of the title are explored. Walt Whitman’s “I” and “You” have changing meanings as his poem progresses. The philosophy is like a remote stream, flowing gently over rocks and around bends on its searching course to understanding its singular perspective.
Director Elizabeth Margolius and actors J.G. Smith (Caroline) and TJ Thomas (Anthony) deftly tap into Lauren Gunderson’s atomic energy behind mind and soul. Their presentation makes what happens absorbing.
J.G. Smith is a bundle of rapid-fire words and action. Caroline is very excitable – what with a stranger in her room unannounced and trying to convince her she must act, now.
TJ Thomas is a spitfire, too. Anthony is quick and clever like Caroline, though in different ways, and equally chock-full of energy.
The acting is explosive. Superb. Smart. Committed.
The audience hangs in, caught in a constant presence of wondering. Where is this going? Where are their heads? What’s going to happen?
At the climax comes a misty “Ohhhhh. Lauren Gunderson is so knowing and adventurous” – thoughts accompanied by a lump in the throat.
The production includes mellow jazz in the air prior to the performance. The setting is Caroline’s upstairs room that is suggested by the roofline at the rear of an opaque wall. Only a bed is in the room. Time passes when two crew members shift the bed with additional choreographed moves with Caroline’s cellphone and Anthony’s backpack.
Eventually, place is moved, too. Getting there is a richly rewarding, brainy, high-quality theatrical experience that’s a step beyond.
Wednesday’s opening-night performance received a standing ovation.
Running time: 82 minutes with no intermission
Remaining performances: To Sept. 4: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 21 and 28, 4 p.m. Sept. 4
Creative: Playwright – Lauren Gunderson; director – Elizabeth Margolius; scenic design – Jack Magaw; lighting designer – Jason Lynch; costume designer – Kyle Pringel; sound designer and original music – Christopher Kriz; scenic artist – Jessie Howe; stage manager – Kaitlin Kitzmiller; assistant stage manager – Kimberly Ann McCann; production manager – Paul Cook; managing director – Brian Kelsey; artistic director – Linda Fortunato
Caroline – J.G. Smith
Anthony – TJ Thomas
NEXT: “Murder for Two” musical, Sept. 7-Oct. 16.
THE VENUE: The location of Peninsula Players Theatre’s Theatre in a Garden is about atmosphere – tall cedars and pines and shoreline vistas along the bay of Green Bay. The theater house is part of a campus that includes a workshop, office, rehearsal hall, dining hall, housing and more at 4351 Peninsula Players Road. Flowers and other decorative foliage grace footpaths that weave through the grounds, which have been extended to the south. Driving along Peninsula Players Road and passing farms and trees, the thought may occur: “This theater is in an unusual place.” The 621-seat theater house features Door County limestone in its interior décor. When the weather is friendly, the wooden slats of the side walls are rolled open to the outside. For cool fall nights, the theater floor is equipped with radiant heating for comfort. While the company dates back 83 years, the theater building is of 2006 vintage. The playhouse and theater were built on the site of the previous structure, which got wobbly with age. The location on the shores of Green Bay provides playgoers with pre-show picnicking and viewing the sunset. Here’s a theatrical rarity: The Players’ website provides sunset times.