When a tall, dark stranger, Anthony (Blake Stone) walks into Caroline’s (Emily Eisele) bedroom unannounced and uninvited, carrying a book and some kind of fried snack, she does what any normal teenage girl would do. She screams. And then she unloads on him verbally. She’s good at that.
In Lauren Gunderson‘s I and You, now playing at Artists Repertory Theatre, Caroline has plenty to be upset about. As we learn, she is housebound with an illness, and has been for some time. Anthony, a classmate she doesn’t know from her high school, has come to work on a homework assignment with her based on Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”. The assignment is due the next day.
When things calm down a bit, Caroline learns that Anthony likes basketball and junk food. Anthony learns that Caroline is a glitter kind of girl, and that his storyboard “sucks”. He begins to woo her with Walt Whitman’s words, and as the play goes forward, a prickly and tentative friendship develops (Caroline also is a prickly kind of girl).
In this charming, sweet play a young girl faces her mortality with all the ammunition she can summon–anger, bluster, sarcasm, but mostly fear. Anthony wants to help, and in his tender, sometimes stumbling way he draws her out and bares himself with a raw honesty that seldom follows us past our teenage years. Their differences begin to dissolve. And yet, Anthony is holding something back.
The pair walk a tightrope, adeptly directed by JoAnn Johnson. I wasn’t prepared for I and You‘s explosive, poignant ending which beautifully made sense of it all. It’s a small miracle of a play that has the potential to stay with you for days and weeks to come.
I and You runs on Artists Repertory Theatre’s Morrison Stage through June 17.
(Photo: Emily Eisele and Blake Stone in I and You at Artists Repertory Theatre. Photo by Russell J. Young.)