note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
Lately, theaters are presenting more plays that focus on teen-age angst and a wide spectrum of adolescent problems, from low self-esteem to bullying, transgender to gay, abortion to irreversible illness. By doing so, theater companies, large and small, are enticing younger audiences, taking them away for a few hours from their cellphones, twitter, facebook, and other social media devices, giving them an invaluable experience to appreciate live performances.
Lauren Gunderson’s award-winning, one-act, 90-minute play, “I and You,” highlights two totally different teen-agers, with little in common, but they have more to share than they think. Portraying Caroline, Kayla Ferguson captures the teen frustration of being 16, full of life, but currently confined to her bedroom. Her cellphone and computer are her “lifelines”. “My life is s....y” she screams.
Gunderson created the role of Anthony with actor Reggie D. White in mind. The two had previously worked together successfully in the San Francisco Bay area, and Gunderson thought White was tailor-made for the part. The play is making its regional premiere at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, then moves to New York City, off-Broadway, to 59E59 Theatres, in January.
Caroline is white, high strung, creative and funky. She’s home from school, because of illness. Anthony is African-American, a sensitive student who loves poetry, plays basketball, and thinks girls are weird. Although Caroline has been out of school for awhile, Anthony chose her as his partner to help with his project on Walt Whitman and the poet’s tome, “Leaves of Grass”.
Why Caroline? They don’t know each other, but he heard she’s creative. He’s not, and really needs her help, he says. He also confesses he’s curious about her.
Initially, she considers Anthony’s presence in her bedroom an intrusion. She hates poetry and doesn’t want to help him.
Anthony likes jazz. Caroline likes wild, old rock ‘n’ roll. He’s the son of a university professor. We know little about Caroline’s parents.
As the play progresses, the two discover they have much to learn from each other. Walt Whitman’s words,especially in “Song of Myself,” take on a deeper, more intimate meaning for the teens.
At first glance, Gunderson’s play seems like an eavesdropping foray into Caroline’s bedroom, designer Michael Carnahan’s veritable diorama of magazine photos and posters covering every wall, while Caroline’s beloved turtle she likes to hug is also a novelty light, casting a green glow (lighting designer Brian Lilienthal).
Merrimack Artistic Director-Director Sean Daniels carefully adheres to Gunderson’s acting instructions to the letter, starting slowly, allowing the characters to get to know each other, then rising to a touching climax and stunning ending, drawing a collective gasp from the audience. No, I won’t reveal it. You’ll have to see it for yourself. And be sure to bring your teen-agers with you.
BOX INFO: Lauren Gunderson’s one-act, 90-minute play about two different teen-agers, making its New England premiere with Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Nancy L. Donahue Theatre, 50 E. Merrimack St., Lowell, through Nov. 1: Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4,8 p.m.; Sunday, 2,7 p.m.; also Sunday, Nov. 1, at 2 p.m. only. Tickets,$23-$60; senior, student, military, group discounts. Check for related events. Call 978-654-4678, email email@example.com. visit www.mrt.org.