SALT LAKE CITY — I and You is a play written by Lauren Gunderson, who is one of the most produced living playwrights in the United States. The plot follows two characters, Caroline (played by Cora Fossen), a teenager forced to stay at home with a life threatening health condition, and Anthony (played by Tristan Johnson), a young basketball player and student needing help with a project who comes to Caroline. As the story unfolds, the audience learns that things for these two characters are definitely not as they seem.
When a production only has two players, it can be intensely complicated to create the needed environment to keep the audience interested. Fossen and Johnson were intriguing with their portrayal of the characters, and I was impressed that such young actors could keep my mind riveted to the show and the storyline. Fossen excelled at showing the bitterness that Caroline exhibited through sarcasm and a flat effect of emotion that concealed a larger longing for connection and understanding which was revealed at certain pivotal plot points. Johnson was able to build the character of Anthony as a kind, intelligent young man with a love of life that was evident in his true enjoyment of jazz music and his passion for finding out Caroline’s dreams and hopes. The pair had a great deal of chemistry between each other, which seemed to grow from two kids thrown together on a school project to two young teenagers who began to see the importance of connection to others.
Director Teresa Sanderson had an interesting vision for the production, and she did well combining all of the visual and emotional elements to create a production that was visually stunning and thought provoking. The show has a simple stage and set, as the majority of the action happens in Caroline’s bedroom. Although it was basic, the scenic design by Thomas George was visually astute. Caroline’s room had personal touches, such as examples of the photography she loved. A part at the end of the play showed some versatility with set that was used eloquently to advance the plot. (Saying much more would ruin some of the unexpected plot changes.)
Lighting by Molly Tiede and sound design by Mikal Troy Klee made important contributions to this production. As the moods changed throughout the show, the lighting adjusted accordingly. There were a few interesting and unorthodox choices that had me puzzled in the beginning. However, by the end they were made more clear and seemed rather ingenious once the fullness of the plot was clear. There was one scene where some green lights were utilized that I am still trying to comprehend how it was made possible. It may be one of my favorite lighting tricks I have witness in a theatrical setting. In a show where only two actors occupy one space, the sound can work to move the plot forward as well as change the pace and feeling of the show. I felt that the choices Klee made throughout the production were integral to the portrayal of the plot.
As the show progressed, while I enjoyed all the elements immensely, I started to worry about the plot line, and how the production could end in a way that was not cheesy. However, Gunderson added a surprise twist ending that avoided clichés. After reflection regarding the whole show, it was evident that there was foreshadowing throughout the show so that the ending would be naturally connected with the rest of the story. These connections were woven so gently into the story that while the ending seemed to come from out of nowhere, the beauty of humanity and the celebration of life that was resulted was inspiring.
The production has some language elements and subject matter including illness and death. Having said that, this production would be an invaluable opportunity to discuss with teens and young adults about the challenges of life, love, illness, and change. The emotional struggle that the actors go through in the short time they are on stage is an impressive look at how everyone connects together on a very fundamental level.
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