By Margie Royal
Lauren Gunderson’s “I and You” was the most produced play in America in 2016. It requires one set and two actors and is perfect for an intimate theatre like the Steinbright Stage at People’s Light and Theatre Co., where “I and You” is currently making its polished Philadelphia premiere. “I and You” is a cleverly constructed 80-minute drama featuring two teenagers seemingly brought together to work on a class assignment. The dialogue sparkles, and veers from high-level to mundane, mixing in plenty of humor along with snatches of Walt Whitman’s poetry as the play unwinds to its surprising conculsion.
Caroline (Claire Inie-Richards), needs a liver transplant. Due to her illness, she’s confined to her room and emails in her homework and relates to her peers through social media. Her physical limitations have made her cynical and bitter about life. She isn’t at all pleased when a fellow student, Anthony (Ricardy Charles Fabre), enters her bedroom. He tells her he’s come because they have been assigned to work together to complete a school report on Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
Claire, a white girl, and an Anthony, an African-American boy, are opposites on many levels. Anthony is excited about poetry and jazz and life in all its possibilities. Claire is defensive, sarcastic, and resistant to any hope for the future. Anthony’s warmth, optimism, and charm gradually starts to crack through Caroline’s defensive shell. And the end of their encounter comes with a fitting twist that I won’t reveal.
Under the sure direction of Samantha Reading, and showcasing the talents of the two actors, “I and You” does indeed become magical. The play isn’t what it seems to be on a lot of levels. You might not think that listening to two teens talk would be of much interest to adult audiences that are likely experiencing that for themselves in their own homes. And you might not think that hearing snatches of Walt Whitman’s poetry discussed would be all that engaging.
But it is.
Claire Inie-Richards brings to life all of Caroline’s rage, fear and pain, and makes believable her gradual respect for Anthony. Ricardy Charles Fabre does a great job with the challenging role of Anthony. Anthony must be articulate, passionate about ideas, brimming with optimism and in love with life — and yet he’s a teenager. Ricardy Charles Fabre shines in the role. I once heard good acting described as a tennis match – great actors don’t let the ball drop. Ricardy Charles Fabre and Claire Inie-Richards do just that; there’s no dropping the volley of dialogue and no lag time for the audience to start to guess how this encounter will end.
Set designers Dylan Jamison and Will Scribner have filled Caroline’s bedroom with a wall full of colorful collages. Along with the set designers, Maria Shapin’s lighting design and Christopher Colucci’s sound design adds greatly to the play’s magic. Bridget Brennan’s teenager costumes are also well chosen.
People’s Light is staging the Philadelphia premiere of “I and You” through April 23. Go see it, and you might be surprised that you’ll leave the theater resolved to read Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
It’s now on my reading list…
People’s Light is at 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, PA 19355. For tickets, call 610-644-3500 or visit peopleslight.org.