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I AND YOU and Walt Whitman too

It’s not every day that a stranger introduces themselves by barging into your room while quoting poetry, but it is how Anthony introduces himself to Caroline in MOXIE’s I AND YOU. Despite this meet-cute moment, he comes bearing homework; a last-minute homework project that they’ve been assigned on a Walt Whitman poem. The play written by Lauren Gunderson follows their conversation and friendship as both deepen over the course of the assignment as they contemplate life, love, longing, and loneliness…you know, typical teenage discussions.

When Anthony, who is a stranger to her, enters her room shouting ” I am this mystery here we stand”, it’s alarming for Caroline (Justine Sombilon) for multiple reasons. One, because home invaders don’t usually enter quoting Walt Whitman, and two, seeing someone that close after isolating for her health is disconcerting. (We can all relate to that, no?).

Miles Henry and Justine Sombilon in Moxie Theatre’s streaming production of “I and You,” streaming at select showtimes through March 28.

Anthony (Miles Henry) is a handsome, popular basketball player who came over so they can work on their “Leaves of Grass” assignment. He is genuinely a fan of Whitman though, so his excitement to work on it with her is genuine along with the minor detail that he forgot to tell Caroline about it and now it is due the next morning which is why he’s now appearing in her window.

Caroline is rightly upset at the last-minute deadline and complains about the futility of poetry analysis projects in general. Anthony is excited about the project, and soon his enthusiasm starts to weaken Caroline’s defenses. “You don’t have to be nice to me,” he suggests, trying to sell her on the assignment. “Be nice to Walt Whitman.”

Over the course of the 90-minute production, Caroline and Anthony run the gamut of emotions and discussions, starting with their feelings on high school, which she attends remotely, to their favorite music, and soon they’re revealing their inner thoughts and feelings on life, dreams, and fears to each other.

Miles Henry and Justine Sombilon in Moxie Theatre’s streaming production of “I and You,” streaming at select showtimes through March 28.

Directed by Callie Prendiville these talented actors have wonderful chemistry together and keep the energy and the dialogue flowing with ease.

Sombilon is bright, ferocious, and a little bit brittle as Caroline. She starts a bit aggressive and isn’t afraid to tell Anthony how she feels about this situation. Anthony takes it all with a smile, calling it “small-dog rage.” Her thaw towards Anthony feels natural, as she slowly comes out of her shell and allows herself to be vulnerable. (Her favorite stuffed animal is a turtle, naturally.)

Henry infuses Anthony with an energetic charm and makes his balance of popular athlete with a hidden love of poetry, and jazz believable. He also shows lovely emotional vulnerability as Anthony recounts a recent event at school that has left him shaken.

As their project and their relationship build something unexpected happens that changes everything about their relationship.

The play is dependent on a few tropes that are overly familiar to anyone who has seen or read any young adult-focused entertainment. The characters all speak in that hyper-aware, highly eloquent way that is also tinged with perfectly timed opaque vaguery that people in writers’ rooms love to write for teenagers. The characters fit neatly into boxes that wouldn’t feel out of place in a teen movie.

Most notable is that Anthony is the male equivalent of a Manic Pixie Dreamgirl; he’s charming, even-tempered, challenging when required, is good at sports, school, music, and just living life out loud. He’s the perfect foil to help Caroline transform into someone who lives life more fully.

Reading this description, if you are at all familiar with any young adult-focused pop culture of the last decade then your mileage may vary on surprise and effectiveness of the last-minute plot twist.

The set by Reiko Huffman is Caroline’s vibrant bedroom, costumes by Carmen Amon, lighting by Ashley Bietz, and sound by Mason Pilevsky all work together well on stage and in the final filmed version by John Brooks.

I AND YOU is presented by MOXIE in collaboration with Orange County’s Electric Company Theatre, which was co-founded by the play’s director Callie Prendiville.

Tickets to I AND YOU are available for this streaming production through March 28th. The production was filmed according to all Covid health and safety guidelines on the MOXIE stage.

Streaming showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $25 or you can get a buy-one-get-one-free ticket is $35. After you purchase your ticket a screening link will be sent to you to access the play at the correct time. For more information on the play and tickets go to moxietheatre.com/IANDYOU

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