Review: City Lights’ ‘I and You’ is supremely lovely

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Anthony (Davied Morales) is a bit too energetic for the cynical Caroline (Ivette Deltoro) in “I and You,” playing in San Jose through June 19th. (City Lights photo)

Oh, it’s just me, myself and I
Solo ride until I die
‘Cause I got me for life
Oh I don’t need a hand to hold
Even when the night is cold
I got that fire in my soul

It is quite ingenious foreshadowing to start off the City Lights Theater Company production of Lauren Gunderson’s signature work “I and You” with G Eazy’s current hit “Me Myself and I.” It’s a rap song that not only has a catchy hook, but a song that is defiant in tone. And while the hook immediately brings the plight of the lovely Caroline to the forefront, other lyrics in the song stand out:

I don’t need anything to get me through the night/Except the beat that’s in my heart/Yeah, it’s keeping me alive.

Certainly, Caroline, played with great levels by Ivette Deltoro, is alive. But it’s hard to make a case that she is living. After all, her room that she never leaves, much like her life, is a veritable mess. Her faulty liver probably looks like her room. Clothes and various other crap encompasses the floor, a pile of teddy bears go about six deep off in the corner while she sports a Beatles t-shirt that has probably been worn for days on end.

What turns Caroline’s world upside down is the presence of the handsome, athletic Anthony, a beautifully presenced Davied Morales, entering her room, sent by her mom from the world of downstairs. There is a group poetry project on Walt Whitman due the next day, and Anthony chooses Caroline to work with, trekking to her house to work after a big basketball game. Her anger at the unannounced visit is palpable. His good nature proves to be infectious, but only after an onslaught of attacks with a hairbrush and clothes as weapons.

Caroline certainly has no desires to spend more than a minute with this dude, and more than a minute thinking about poetry. After all, according to Caroline, this is an art form where you guess what something means, only to be told that it means “14 other things that are not obvious.”

She is in no mood for company, academic or not, and has no time to be around Anthony’s desire for a constant abundance of eating crap like Pop Tarts and waffle fries. But probably out of sheer pity, with Anthony displaying an embarrassingly bad (and sadly, a pretty deadly accurate representation of high school quality) display board, Caroline takes on the board, giving it legitimacy by adding one of her favorite inventions – glitter.

Both Caroline and Anthony start off slowly and awkwardly, with not much in common at any point. He plays basketball, she’s heard of basketball, barely. He likes jazz and John Coltrane, she likes songs about balls of fire. And while he yearns for more tangible kinds of human connection, Caroline has learned to love and confide in her plush turtle, which is named, well, “Turtle.”

The brilliance of Gunderson’s words is in the structure of how she shapes her play. There are so many lovely layers that sit forth, brilliantly revered in the form of Coltrane’s dazzling and groundbreaking jazz album, 1964’s “A Love Supreme.” You can probably say that each moment of their lives in the play represents one of his four suites on the album – acknowledgement, resolution, pursuance and psalm.

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Caroline (Deltoro) is consoled by Anthony (Morales) after a slight breakdown. (City Lights photo)

While different components of art help tell the story, certainly rap and jazz at the forefront, Whitman’s words come alive beautifully, centered on his epic poem “Song of Myself.”

Director Noëlle GM Gibbs crafts a lovely story in the way it is paced. So many moments were filled with deafening silence or sharp urgencies. What could have strengthened was in various moments of discovery. Some of these discoveries, namely little hints that showed the relationships evolution felt forced and inorganic early on, but leveled out nicely towards the end. Other moments, namely when Morales delivers a piece describing the end of his basketball game should be played with greater discoveries and stronger personal connections. Bigger and more organic truths need to come forth.

Despite some of those shortcomings, Gibbs set both Morales and Deltoro on a great path of deep connections. Both actors engaged in some extraordinary timing. Because this is a play of strong, individual moments, each actor took turns listening with empathy and ultimately, a growing trust, building towards some of the most powerful moments in the play.

City Lights productions are often a treat because of the work of set designer Ron Gasparinetti and sound designer George Psarras, with their work raging towards the pathos-driven denouement in this production. Nick Kumamoto’s lighting design was vastly understated, yet very effective in its subtlety.

While there were only two characters on stage, it could be argued that Whitman’s poetry is the third character. His words penetrated so many moments, and the arguments that both Caroline and Anthony engaged in about the poem had plenty of depth.

Caroline’s thesis is that end of Whitman’s poem is the most effective, yet Anthony disagrees. Caroline is eloquent, Anthony is youthful and ideal, and ultimately, some of the most powerful of Whitman’s words came alive so beautifully with a perfect mix of both of their perspectives. In the end, both Anthony and Caroline saw their arcs move through space with strength, with passion, and with purpose:

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

City Lights Theater Company presents “I and You”
Written by Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Noëlle GM Gibbs
The Word: Despite some moments that need more truth, the play is beautifully crafted and strongly performed by two young, savvy actors.
Stars: 4.5 out of 5
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Through June 19th
City Lights Theater
529 S. Second St., San Jose, CA
Tickets range from $15 – $34
For tickets, call (408) 295-4200 or visit www.cltc.org

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