Curious hearts, complicated lives come alive in ‘I and You’

By Bob Behr
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Weston Playhouse’s newest offering, Lauren Gunderson’s I and You, is a beautifully written — and beautifully presented — story of two young people at a critical moment.

Jordan Tyson, left, as Caroline, and Glenn Stott as Anthony carry ‘I and You’ through emotional understanding. Photos by Alex Perry.

If you go (and you should), your first impression will be scenic designer Tim Mackabee’s spectacular stage set, which remains in place for the entire play. It’s the bedroom of a teenage girl and it’s a visual feast, an organized clutter of colors, shapes and objects. Purple, turquoise, round, square, slanted lines, vertical lines, soft, hard. These are the pillows, computer, sky-high bookshelves, photos and toys of a teenager, recently a child.

Walker Farm has closed off all but one section of its space, creating intimate seating that leans in to Mackabee’s set—which in turn invites the audience to shed a few years and re-enter adolescence.

The bedroom belongs to Caroline, a bright and prickly high school senior who’s been homebound while waiting for the liver transplant that will save her life. Despite her illness, she’s got energy to spare and it mostly takes the form of anger, sarcasm and insults.

This is sophisticated fare that will make
even the most mature theater-goers stop
and reflect on life’s mysteries, and then
reflect again and again.

Into Caroline’s isolated life walks Anthony, in need of her help. Though new to her, he’s a classmate and their group assignment on Walt Whitman is due tomorrow. Anthony’s socially awkward way of introducing himself is a quote from Whitman’s poetry: “I and this mystery here we stand.”

And Caroline’s response, her first line in the play — a high-decibel scream, really—is “WhoaWhoaWhoa, what the hell! What do you want?”

Caroline and Anthony are worlds apart.

But a third, unseen character, Walt Whitman — with his unbounded enthusiasm for birth, death, and everything between — brings them together. Over several hours, the two teenagers work on their project. More important, an unexpected, albeit thorny, friendship develops. And, in the end, they forge a surprising, enduring bond.

‘I and You’ is ‘a roller-coaster ride of words, moments of silence and music.’

I and You is a polyglot of a play. Caroline and Anthony each speak a dialect of 21st century teenage American. Walt Whitman’s poetry (quickly quoted at times; at others, read lovingly in long passages) inserts another voice: 19th century free-wheeling American lyricism. And at critical moments in the drama, each of the characters tells the other one to shut up and listen to the language of music – specifically, John Coltrane and Jerry Lee Lewis.

It’s a roller-coaster ride of words, moments of silence and music.

Expertly directed by Johanna Gruenhut, two young actors, Jordan Tyson and Glenn Stott as Caroline and Anthony, respectively, deliver absolutely superb performances.

Tyson takes Caroline from her initial one-note petulance into something much more nuanced and sympathetic. Stott’s good-natured, earnest Anthony is a perfect foil for Caroline’s ill-humor. (Caroline: “Can you stop being charming for like a second?” Anthony: “Fine. I eat cold hot dogs. Often.”) Their no-intermission dialogue is fast-paced, witty and poetic, sometimes goofy and endearing, sometimes gut-wrenching. In other words, well worth the ride.

Although its characters are teenagers, I and You is no teen emo-drama. This is sophisticated fare that will make even the most mature theater-goers stop and reflect on life’s mysteries, and then reflect again and again.

Tim Mackabee’s stunning set is refined and transformed by Jesse Belsky’s elegant daylight-into-night lighting scheme.

I and You has the support of a fine creative team. Tim Mackabee’s stunning set is refined and transformed by Jesse Belsky’s elegant daylight-into-night lighting scheme. Julian Evans’ soundscape, a thoughtful blend of musical excerpts, camera clicks, text message beeps, smoke alarms, even the sound of human breathing, is a crucial part of Caroline and Anthony’s story.

Multiple award winning playwright Lauren Gunderson, though still in her 30s, is prolific and popular. In fact, since 2016 she’s been the most produced living playwright in America. It’s understandable when you experience a work like I and You with its articulate young characters who speak 21st century American and yet have yearnings that reach back into humanity’s centuries-old roots.

I and You continues through July 21 at Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm, 705 Main St., Weston. Tickets are $45 to $60. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; matinees are 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. For information and/or tickets click here or call 802-824-5288.

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