REVIEW: “I and You”—MOXIE Theatre San Diego/Co-Produced with LA’s The Electric Company Theatre

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, “