There is nothing like the excitement of walking into a theater performance with no idea what to expect, especially when that performance is as captivating as “I and You” written by Lauren Gunderson, which featured on March 27th at the UVU Noorda Theater. The small theater room felt private like an intimate conversation was about to take place. The few people present only heightened the mystery and anticipation.
As the audience waited for the performance to begin, it gave them a chance to observe the cluttered set, a teenage girl’s bedroom. Slowly, small details drew the viewer’s attention in as they puzzled out the private life of whoever lives here: a map of the world, a computer, walls covered in photographs, and a poster with the thoughtful question “What’s good?” While they are perhaps figuring out the story behind these objects and the one they represent, the lights come on and the performance begins.
“I and this mystery, here we stand,” are the first words spoken in the performance, somewhat abruptly by Anthony (Logan Squire) as he intrudes into the personal space of Caroline’s (Erica Schoebinger) room where she lays on her bed immersed in her phone. These are the famous words of Walt Whitman in his book of poetry “Leaves of Grass.”
Understandably, Caroline demands to know why this strange boy has barged into her room uninvited and shouting words from long-dead poets. Anthony explains they have been assigned as partners in a joint project about said poet.
The problem is Caroline has a potentially terminal illness preventing her from going to school and left her with an abrasive attitude, or as Anthony puts it “cranky.” She finds the project and the person who brought it as nothing more than an annoyance. But Anthony is passionate, just as passionate as the poet they are meant to study. Their back and forth dialogue plays wonderfully as they awkwardly battle about the importance of this project, but Anthony is not to be dissuaded and eventually, out of pure frustration, Caroline relents and agrees to help.
That’s it. The premise is pretty simple.
The ingenuity begins to unfold when the subject of their study expands beyond their school project into their own lives and eventually, truths buried within these two characters explode outward in pure vulnerability. A centerpiece throughout is Caroline’s turtle stuffed animal seeming to suggest that the ones really hiding in their shells are Caroline and Anthony.
In their conversation, they contemplate death and its perhaps more terrifying counterpart, life. Caroline has come to accept death’s inevitability because of her illness, but she is a shut-in, experiencing life only through the glow of her phone. Anthony, on the other hand, is an outgoing, popular, basketball player who is excited by everything life has to offer, but he fears losing it. They don’t realize it but they have important things to learn from each other.
When the ending comes it is at once surprising and somehow expected. Schoebinger and Squire pull off an emotional and compelling performance in the role of these two awkward teens who are grappling with the complexities of life (all through COVID-19 mandated masks too). It is truly a credit to the amount of impact such a small set and concept can have.