Updated: Mar 7, 2021
"A Play Grounded in Authentic Experience!"
If you have ever dipped into the tear-filled pools of young adult literature—or the books, films and plays inspired by it — you have probably encountered a couple like Caroline and Anthony. They’re the sparring, sparking high school students in “I and You,” Lauren Gunderson's perky two-character study in adolescent confusions and cosmic mysteries, co-produced by San Diego's MOXIE Theatre and LA's The Electric Company Theatre, which began streaming March 5th, and will be available through the 28th this month.
Portrayed with equal measures of impishness and angst by Justine Sombilon and Miles Henry, Caroline is both combative and splenetic—“small but mighty, like a dachshund,” she says.
He is a tall basketball player, athletic and popular, who believes in the virtues of politeness and making good grades. He practically lives on Pop-Tarts; she unconditionally loves Chunky Monkey ice cream. She digs Elvis; he’s into Coltrane.
He says that he doesn’t “get girls” because they “get all weird and then they get mad,” and she thinks that boys only pretend to be tough when they’re scared inside. She: “Why do you assume you’re so likable?” He: “Why are you so impossible?”
You’ve heard all this before, right? Maybe while watching an after-school special in the 1970s? But wait. What if I told you she was afflicted with a fatal disease? Oh, you’ve seen that before, too, maybe in "The Fault in Our Stars" or "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl?" But there’s another, stranger turn of the screw in this story that, well, unfortunately, that’s the one thing I can’t talk about here. You’ll just have to see it yourself.
Actually, the surprise that lurks in the sentimentality of “I and You” partly accounts for its having received scores of productions around the United States already, not to mention winning the American Theater Critics Association Steinberg ATCA New Play Award or snagging that finalist slot for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Well, that, and its poetry-boosting argument that Walt Whitman provides a good road map to the perplexities of life for the young and the restless.
So what’s it all about? Well, basically, homework.
Cue the scene: A strange boy named Anthony has just barged into Caroline’s “not too girly” room (Reiko Huffman did the set—the room is a collage of visual clues, conveying Caroline’s affinity for cats, photography and vintage rock) quoting Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” and Caroline is freaking out. She has no idea what’s going on. She hasn’t been to her high school in weeks, home sick with a liver disease. But Anthony explains: they’ve been assigned an English project to work on together—a presentation on Whitman’s "Song of Myself" (in which Ms. Gunderson derived the title of this play).
This is not welcome news. Caroline hates school, just as much as she hates that her disease won’t let her be there. And she especially hates poetry. There’s about a million things she’d rather be doing than this project, and most of them involve texting her friends, or Instagramming photos on her phone. “I swear to God,” she says sardonically, “if I lose wifi, I’d rather lose my nose!” So just about the last thing she wanted was a complete stranger walking through her bedroom door to team up on a school project about poetry.
Caroline resists at first, but when Anthony tells her about Whitman’s “barbaric yawp,” she starts to be interested. Before you can say, “O captain, my captain,” she’s fluent in Whitman’s use of pronouns as a reflection of universal interconnectedness. In the meantime, she and Anthony have argued their way into what looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship. They share waffle fries. She snaps his photo. Before she knows it, they’ve delved head-first into the project, and “Walter Whitman” (not to mention, Anthony) has swept her off her feet.
They speak in teen slang, or an adult’s quaint simulation of it, but Anthony’s self-possession seems precocious. Has any 16-year-old boy ever been so gracious and unflappable? But his charm eventually starts to work his alchemy on the bilious Caroline and the play transforms into the more familiar after-school special territory. But as these two let down their guards and share their secrets, this seemingly mundane poetry project unlocks even a much deeper mystery that has brought them together.
You might view Caroline and Anthony as descendants of two cultural stereotypes: the manic pixie dream girl (MPDG), who, even facing death, is a raging life force, and the magic "Don Quixote-like" knight who sheds light and ineffable wisdom on dark corners of doubt. But It’s really an ode to youth, life, love, and the strange beauty of human connectedness.
But regardless of the take, Director Callie Prendiville has performed magic in this beautiful production, expanding minds and thoughts on art, as well as connecting individual identities with versification. It is a story that will truly warm your heart, and provide an ending that will leave you breathless, giving viewers a tantalizing, Whitman-esque glimpse of cosmic interconnectedness, all while redeeming faith in the power of intimate theater.
In fact, Director Prendiville's rendering of Ms. Gunderson’s script, using the limited stagecraft at her disposal during these viral times, creates a rewarding payoff that’s definitely worth the journey. In the end, “I and You” packs a wallop that will leave you talking for hours, and thinking for a long time afterwards.
Starring Justine Sombilon and Miles Henry, the Creative and Technical Team includes: Director Callie Prendiville, Stage Manager Alyssa Swann, Scenic Designer Reiko Huffman, Costume Designer Carmen Amon, Lighting Designer Ashley Bietz, Sound Designer Mason Pilevsky, Prop Designer & Technical Director Angelica Ynfante, Production Manager Nicole Ries, and Executive Artistic Director Jennifer Eve Thorn she/her/hers.
This production is filmed on MOXIE’s stage and the recorded performance is streamed on Zoom at scheduled performance times. Each performance also includes live pre- and post-show content plus winning performances from the “Song of Yourself Virtual Poetry Slam” contest. Winners will witness their poems streamed before performances of the play.
“I and You,” is now playing virtually, March 5th through March 28th, 2021. Tickets are $25- Single Ticket; $15- Rush Tickets - 1 Hour Before Performance - Limited Availability; $35- Buy One Give One (sponsor a student with your purchase); Student Groups: Please contact MOXIE to inquire about pricing. Sponsored tickets may also be available for Title 1 Schools. A link to the show will be distributed by MOXIE at www.moxietheatre.com.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credit: MOXIE Theatre