Emily Eisele

I & You and the unexpected twist

Boy meets girl and both meet Walt Whitman in Artists Rep's newest. But what about that surprise jolt before it ends?

I and You, the Laura Gunderson play on the boards at Artists Repertory Theatre, is about a couple of teenagers meeting cute and doing their homework. It also is about life and love and death, the transcendent beauty of poetry, and the grand mysteries of existence and connection. I and You is a play with next to nothing in terms of action. It is also a play in which events of the utmost consequence take place. I and You feels wonderfully charming yet slight. It also feels profound yet more than a little irritating.

That this one-act play can have such a dual nature — and such a contradictory one, at that — is due in large part to a surprise narrative twist, very late in its 90-minute run time, that radically alters our understanding of what’s come before it.

But first, there’s a project due for American lit class.

Emily Eisele, Blake Stone, and Walt Whitman in the bedroom. Photo: Russell J Young

Anthony shows up out of the blue, through the bedroom doorway of Caroline. They’re high school classmates but don’t know each other, in part because Caroline has been increasingly ill and is studying (somewhat half-heartedly) from home while she awaits an organ transplant. Anthony arrives unannounced to collaborate on an assignment Caroline hasn’t even bothered to notice, a presentation on the use of pronouns in the poetry of Walt Whitman.

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Spotlight on: Eisele & Stone

The two young stars of Lauren Gunderson's "I and You" at Artists Rep have talent to burn, and nothing to fall back on but each other onstage

Emily Eisele and Blake Stone are making their move. When you meet these bright and talented young actors the energy coming off them is palpable: youth, excitement, the new epiphany of their own creative power. Together, they comprise the entire cast of Artist Repertory Theatre’s final show of this season, Lauren Gunderson’s I and You, which opened Saturday.

After a season of fire and brimstone, epics and politics, illusion and disillusion, I and You is something entirely different – and yet, of a piece. It’s a quiet play, but its victories and connections are no less profound for that. Gunderson, “the most produced playwright in the country,” writes in her program notes that Anthony is African-American and Caroline is white but then says, “The race of each character can be altered. The only essentiality is that the characters not be the same race.” It’s a quiet statement, fully in keeping with the rest of Artist Rep’s season but not as in your face. Eisele and Stone are the perfect vessels for such a message, laden as they are with talent, charm, and charisma in abundance.

Emily Eisele and Blake Stone in “I and You.” Photo: Russell J Young

Eisele (pronounced eye-slee), a native of Fort Collins, Colorado, lived in Portland for about five years. Though she hasn’t had a lot of formal training, she’s been learning her trade on the boards since she was a kid. When she arrived in the Rose City she knocked around for a couple of years, not really making any headway until she became an apprentice at Third Rail Repertory. Her year at Third Rail proved a game-changer. “It was a great way to meet other young passionate artists that wanted to collaborate,” she says. “I was really lucky my year because the majority of us were really dedicated and really wanted to be there and created a lot of our own opportunities together and that’s built a lot of lasting relationships for me.” Along the way, and since then, Eisele has starred in Band Geeks at Broadway Rose and made her Artists Rep debut in last season’s American Hero. Since that production, Eisele has chosen to take her talents to Chicago and make a name for herself there.

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Sub-standard hero at the food court

Artists Rep's fast-food comedy "American Hero" is deftly produced and performed, but the script sandwich holds more than the mayo

Everybody’s gotta eat. And (with the possible exception of advanced Buddhist practitioners) everyone hungers for something. Those may or may not be related.

Sometimes that first truth leads you to settle for what’s at hand, the convenient and familiar — for instance, a fast-food sandwich. You probably can count on the thing to conform to some basic standards, to have a calculatedly appealing combination of salt and fat and such, to fill your tummy for awhile. But is it really satisfying?

Val Landrum, Emily Eisele and Gavin Hoffman, taking it to the man. Photo: Owen Carey

Val Landrum, Emily Eisele and Gavin Hoffman, taking it to the man. Photo: Owen Carey

For those who consume theater as sustenance, that sub sandwich has a surprising counterpart in American Hero, the latest production on the boards at the venerable Artists Repertory Theatre. Bess Wohl’s one-act comedy serves up enough basic entertainment value to get you through a brief evening — a handful of skillful performances and a lot of easy laughs tucked into a readily recognizable and digestible form.  But if you’re feeling the need of some nourishing human insight, emotional resonance, trenchant social thinking or refined aesthetic pleasure, you might find yourself uttering some theatergoers version of that old TV-ad lament, “Wow. I could’ve had a V-8!”

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