Review: I AND YOU

by Lynn on April 21, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Lauren Gunderson

Directed by Marc Bondy

Set and costumes by Emma Welsh

Lighting by Noah Feaver

Cast: Abby Weisbrot

Jake Runeckles

NOTE: Stop reading long enough to contact the Tarragon Theatre box office and buy a ticket NOW to this stunning production. The run is short.  The contact information is at the end. I’ll wait. Are we good? Ok, continue reading.

 Wow!!! A beautifully written play that packs a wallop at the end when you least expect it, in a wonderfully modulated, passionate production.

The Story. Caroline is a teen who has been troubled with health issues her whole life, mainly with her liver. She is convinced she will die young so she has shut herself in her room, listening to her music, taking artistic photos with her phone, keeping up with home work and texting her mother downstairs if she wants anything(!) She doesn’t like to yell downstairs if she wants anything, hence the texting.   We learn quickly Caroline does not want to be in contact with anyone. Relationships are too hard and she has to protect her time. Until Anthony (another teen) appears in her room.

He was allowed up to Caroline’s room with some cookies her mother gave him. He is there to seek her help with a tricky English school project. He requested her as a partner, even though she has not been in school, because she has that artistic something his project needs. And besides, she knows how to use glitter effectively. The project is about Walt Whitman’s epic work, “Leaves of Grass” and in particular his use of the pronouns “I” and “You”.

Anthony is intoxicated with the work. Catherine has never heard of it. She wants him gone. He is persistent because the project is due the next day and he let time slip by. And he needs an A in it and he’s hopeless at this stuff. It’s a subtle, gentle, fierce tug of war between the two until the stunning ending that leaves you breathless.

The Production. Designer Emma Welsh has created a warm, comfortable cocoon as Caroline’s (Abby Weisbrot) bedroom. Clothes are on the floor. The bed is messy because she spends a lot of time lounging on it. She has a plush turtle toy for comfort. The shelves are stuffed with knickknacks a young teenage girl collects and treasures.

Caroline is dressed in black tights, athletic socks and a sweat shirt. She is listening to music with heavy-duty headphones. She is caught unawares when Anthony (Jake Runeckles) just appears in her room, bearing the container of cookies. Anthony wears jeans and a top as teens would, and  brings his backpack, the container of cookies (under his arm), his large bristol board on which is his project and he also manages to hold his well read, neatly tabbed copy of “Leaves of Grass.” He takes off his shoes when he comes into Caroline’s room. He wears brightly patterned sock. (I wanted them. Sorry).

Director, Marc Bondy has directed his two gifted actors, Abby Weisbrot as Caroline and Jake Runeckles as Anthony, with care, sensitivity and a gentle hand. The set up is simple. Caroline wants Anthony out of her room. Anthony can’t leave until he convinces her to help him.

Abby Weisbrot plays Caroline as one tough teen. She is stubborn, verbally combative and wary of anyone who invades her space. It’s to Jake Runeckles’ credit as Anthony that he begins to win Caroline’s trust, first by convincing her that her mother said it was ok, otherwise why would he be bringing a container of her cookies, his desperation for her help begins to break down her defenses, and he begins to win her over with his enthusiasm for “Leaves of Grass,” reveling in Walt Whitman’s celebration of humanity, his philosophical musings on life, and the beautiful way Whitman celebrates relationships.

Eventually trust is earned between the two. Secrets and fears are shared. Caroline believes she will die soon and Anthony is determined to change that attitude. There is a kiss on the cheek of affection then later a more passionate kiss when Anthony kisses Caroline on the mouth and she returns it. In a way he is giving her the kiss of life, preparing her to embrace life outside that room and the key is Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”

The chemistry between Weisbrot and Runeckles is a thing of beauty. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard two young actors engage in such passionate conversation in which they listen so intently to the other and not just reacting automatically.

Again, I can’t say enough about Marc Bondy’s direction in which the relationship between those two characters is paramount. Without fussiness he gently draws the audience into the play that then grabs you, pulls you in and leaves you breathless with the ending that packs a wallop.

Comment.  Playwright Lauren Gunderson has written a stunner of a play in I and You. Initially it looks like a play about teens coming of age, coping with growing pains, the desire for privacy, wanting to earn an A in a course, and discovering the beauty of “Leaves of Grass” from the point of view of a teenage boy who also loves jazz and wants to pass on that enthusiasm.

But it is much more than that. It’s about life in all its exploding beauty. It’s about passing on the appreciation of that beauty when you least expect it. As often happens when I see a gem of a play/production so emotionally exquisite, I wept all the way to the car. Then bought a tub of chocolate brownie cookie dough ice cream for solace. Life is full.

Outlook Theatre Presents:

Opened: April 20, 2018.

Closes: April 29, 2018.

Running Time:  90 minutes (no intermission)

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brian Stein April 24, 2018 at 10:38 pm

I left feeling in need of a sweet too, but am such a good person I came home to a pear.


2 Jerry Austin April 26, 2018 at 12:20 am

It’s Bristol board, not bristle board, unless you happen to be writing about dart boards.
Oh yeah, thought the play was a winner too…