Caroline (Jennifer Finch) is in her over-stuffed and over-decorated bedroom (great set design by Tom Buderwitz) when Anthony (Matthew Hancock), a young black man she has never seen before, walks in and starts reciting poetry. Caroline screams and yells and it takes quite some time for Anthony to explain that he was expected. Her mother even gave him some cookies and pointed the way upstairs. Caroline has been very ill and has not attended school for several months but she has kept up with her classes at home and is expected to graduate on time. Anthony tells her she’s the school mystery and he was curious. He chose her as his partner for an American Lit. project that is due the next morning. Their teacher was supposed to send Caroline an email but that is such an ancient way to communicate–Caroline even texts her mother downstairs for a soft drink.
Their project is to dissect Walt Whitman’s classic poem “Song of Myself” from his collection Leaves of Grass. Most especially his use of the pronouns I and You which is the title of Lauren Gunderson’s 90-minute intermission-less two-hander. Caroline really isn’t into poetry but after Anthony’s impassioned pleas and some line readings from the poem, she gets into helping him with the project. Whitman’s outlook on life and death touch something in both of them. The teenagers don’t really seem to have much in common at first, but they eventually bond over his love of jazz and her love of “Great Balls of Fire.” Caroline has been sick most of her life with a genetic disease and is on the waiting list for a new liver. She tires quickly, especially when she over exerts herself. Her bedroom seems to be her entire universe. She’s into photography and has a cat named Bitter and a stuffed turtle that lights up. Anthony plays saxophone as well as basketball. He suddenly tells of a game he was playing earlier that day when one of the players just dropped dead on the court. Gunderson’s writing bounces off the walls throughout and her theme is never very clear. Her quirky characters are interesting at times but overwritten with their angsts and peculiarities. The play takes a magical/mystical twist in the final five minutes that some of the audience seemed to buy but I felt was a desperate attempt to wrap things up neatly and generate some tears. The actors are fine if a bit unrestrained under Robin Larsen’s loose direction.
The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave. in Los Angeles. Ends June 21. 323-663-1525 or www.fountaintheatre.com