Gunderson & Gray Capture Life Under Lockdown
by Patricia L. Morin
Left Edge Theatre’s two one-acts, “Beautiful Monsters” by Kelly Gray and “I and You” by Lauren Gunderson, explore the difficulties of life and love, and reveal our absolute need for human connection.
“Beautiful Monsters,” astutely directed by Argo Thompson, grabbed my attention immediately. With a great story line, alluring tech, and lyrical music. Gray’s play is an artistic experiment that hooks us and provokes thoughts.
The simple stage set with a wooden desk on one side and a wooden counter, morphs from blackness to video colors to flashing lights throughout the show. The Writer (talented Taylor Diffenderfer) scribes about her love for The Actor (versatile John Browning).
They cannot meet, touch, or feel each other during the 2020 Pandemic. The Musician (dynamic Zachary Hasbany) uses rhythmic, robotic locomotion to turn the actors into robots—technology consumes the human spirit. I wonder about my own embracing of computers and video games during Covid. What of ourselves did we lose?
Along with The Dancer (comical Grace Kent) and The Usher (vibrant Jackie Threlfall), the five players capture the disquieting emotional perils of 2020. Anthony Martinez and Lulu Thompsxn create a disparate selection of popular and original music to accompany their scenes.
The actors astound me with unique, distinct performances.
In “Chat room,” The Writer and Actor text. Loneliness and desperation—and missing Browning, have put Diffenderer on the brink of suicide; while he sees field monsters approaching.
When Kent, in silky, sexy black garb, sings, “You don’t have to be rich to be my girl,” she brings comic relief to pandemic pain.
“Beautiful Monsters” pulsates with music and dance, with superb choreography by Kimberly Kalember. When the two finally share their first kiss, the ensemble sings, “We belong to the light, we belong together.” We share their optimism and feel a rebirth.
On the other hand, Gunderson’s “I and You” brings together two teenagers in a closed room, forcing them to connect. In her cramped bedroom, Caroline (Dale Lionheart) has plastered her walls with tiny photos and party memories.
Unannounced, Anthony (Manny DeLeon), a popular athlete but unknown to Caroline, barges in with a school project on Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I had difficulty sitting through their banal outdated teenage disagreements: “I like Pop Tarts,” “I like Chunky Monkey ice-cream.” “I like Elvis.” “Well, I like Coltrane.”
Lionheart does a fine job projecting Caroline’s constant caldron of emotions, building a roller coaster ride from anger to anxiety to fearlessness. A prisoner in her room, with a stuffed turtle as her only confidante, Caroline is dying of a rare liver disease. Combative and surly, she demands: “Don’t pity me!” We feel her sorrow and her fear of dying.
But Anthony stays calm and polite, refusing to leave, as Whitman takes possession of Gunderson’s script. We are surprised when Caroline and Anthony skillfully dance around Whitman’s use of “I, you, and we,” artfully questioning their connection to humanity, and to each other.
Anthony believes their project should begin with his entrance, saying, “I am mystery and here I stand.” But Caroline absorbs “I, you, and we,” channeling Whitman’s wit: “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
But their project ends with a shock: Wham, it’s over. After sitting through two kids’ major teenage angst, I ask myself, was this very clever, totally unexpected ending worth it? I’ll opt for those “Beautiful Monsters.”
“I and You” by Lauren Gunderson & “Beautiful Monsters” by Kelly Gray, directed by Argo Thompson, LIVE at Left Edge Theatre, Santa Rosa, California. Info: LeftEdgeTheatre – to September 19, 2021.
Cast: “I and You” – Manny DeLeon, Caroline Lionheart. “Beautiful Monsters” – John Browning, Taylor Diffenderfer, Zachary Hasbany, Grace Kent, and Jackie Threlfall.
Banner photo: Taylor Diffenderfer, John Browning, Zachary Hasbany, Jackie Threlfall, and Grace Kent.