Compass Rose Theater’s production of I and You is a heartfelt look at the power of poetry and human connection. Lauren Gunderson’s 2013 play revolves around two young people meeting for a school project on Walt Whitman. Directed by Jerry Winters, it is an intimate blend of humor and heartbreak.
Lilli Brown plays teenage girl Caroline with youthful complexity. She opens the play dancing around her bedroom, then quickly switches to anger at the unexpected arrival of Anthony, a surprise project partner (Alie Karambash). Having missed school because of illness, she tells Karambash not to “be nice” to her and interrogates him for his motives. Initially bored with Whitman’s poetry, she later enthusiastically raves about it, giving a thoughtful, impromptu presentation on an aspect of it. She shares her dreams of moving to New York, then admits she thinks she will never achieve it. After a health scare, she hides under her duvet on the bed, asking Karambash for tissues and her stuffed tortoise.
Alie Karambash brings a playful maturity to Anthony. He just wants to get an “A” on the project, but his passion for both Whitman and jazz comes through powerfully. He is quietly emotional while revealing a tragedy, and relates his many flaws (some funny, some serious) when Brown declares him “perfect.”
Brown and Karambash have excellent chemistry together. Watching them is gripping, as their relationship develops, quickly moving from excitement to awkwardness to arguments and back again.
Set designer Omar Said evokes a teen girl’s bedroom with a big bed and duvet in the right-hand corner and a small desk and swivel chair in the left. Photos, posters, and artwork adorn the walls. Costume designer Susan Flynn creates simple outfits: sweatpants and Converses for Caroline, a bandanna, jeans, and boots for Anthony.
Lighting designer Emily Palmerchuck blacks out the stage for the scene changes. Stick-on stars and black light illuminate the stage at one moment. Sound designer Craig Martien plays Caroline and Anthony’s favorite music and throws out sound effects, like a chirping smoke detector, that play a large role toward the end.
Jerry Winters does a wonderful job as director. Brown and Karambash expertly navigate each other and the stage. They make the teen-speak dialogue feel natural and understandable. They handle the play’s curious shift at the end, although the sound effects muffle some of the dialogue. A small, intimate play tackling heavy subjects through humor and art, I and You is not to be missed.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
I and You plays through December 10, 2023, presented by Compass Rose Theater performing at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts (third floor), 801 Chase Street, Annapolis, MD. Purchase tickets ($25–$55) online or call 410-980-6662