FTT’s ‘I and You’
Caelin Miltko | Thursday, March 2, 2017
Lauren Gunderson’s 2014 “I and You” revolves around the story of Caroline, a chronically ill teenage girl, who is visited by a mysterious boy, insisting that he needs her to help him with his project about Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” From the start, the Film, Television and Theater Department’s latest production feels a little guardian angel-esque.
Anthony (played by Eric Ways) barges into Caroline (played by Mary Patano)’s room, reciting Whitman’s poetry, and insisting he is her partner for an English project. From the play’s first act, Anthony’s true purpose seems clear — he is there to ‘save’ Caroline from the hopelessness she feels as a by-product of her long struggle with some sort of liver disease.
The magic of “I and You” is that, at some point, it manages to forget that storyline for a while and focuses on other, more uplifting plotlines. The second act plays out like a scene from something along the lines of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” where Caroline’s role is to ‘save’ Anthony from his fear of dying. In the third act, it seems like they can help — but maybe not save — each other, until the final twist that appears to take the plot back to the beginning. However, like all returns, the end cannot be the same as the beginning because of the events that have transpired.
“I and You,” on the surface, is basically the story of the most intense group project ever. Ways and Patano are brilliantly emotive from start to finish, moving from melodramatic teenage angst to blind glee to repressed fear to irrepressible cynicism with ease.
The play, despite its deeper concerns, is primarily comedic. Patano continually flies to her bed in fits of teenage melodrama, and Ways expresses himself loudly and exuberantly, playacting Whitman’s poem like a young boy telling his favorite story.
At times the theater seemed to buzz with the tension of their scenes together, perhaps due to the intimacy of the setting. “I and You” takes place in the Decio Theater in DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, which has been formed into a black box theater. The audience sits on either side of the stage, meaning at times the facial expressions and actions of the characters are obscured. Despite not being able to see every emotion on the actors’ faces, the closed-in nature of the theater increases the immersion of the audience in the production.
Lauren Gunderson’s script emphasizes the youth of the characters in contrast to the problems they are forced to face, all through the filter of Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” which might well be useful reading before seeing the play. Their exuberance, cynicism and everyday concerns are haunted by something darker — hinted at by the pill bottles on the edges of set, Patano’s breakdowns, and Ways’ hesitance to speak too much about himself.
The setting and costumes are also designed to emphasize their youth. Patano’s hair is always in braids. The room is wonderfully adolescent, surrounded by fairy lights, decorated with bright colors and polka dots, and the bed features a number of Pillow Pets and other stuffed animals. Anthony’s original poster board is pathetic — clearly the attempt of a distracted teenager with better things to do.
The youth emphasized by these details makes the storyline more tragic on the whole, even as it plays out as a comedy until the very end.
In contrast to other FTT plays, this one (until the final moments) seems less literary and more accessible — and therefore more enjoyable for a wider audience. The intimacy of the setting and the skill of the actors bring what truly is a moving script to life.
“I and You” plays at the Decio Theater in DPAC at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $7 for students.