Thinking about death with “I and You”

“I and You” is a strange play. The earnest, sardonic, critically-ill Caroline, played by Maycee Klein ’23, and the successful, sensitive, turtleneck-wearing Anthony, played by Eugene Sandel ’22 comprised the entire cast. The Kelsey Theater, where the theater department production took place, was adorned with the single set: Caroline’s bedroom. The whole production is a prolonged conversation between the two about a school project on romantic poet Walt Whitman, who seeked to defy death and misery with acts of romantic self-expression. The thematic thru-line of the script surrounds these two high school students as they try to confront death on their own terms.


 

Maycee Klein ’23 and Eugene Sandel ’22 act out a scene during the play “I and You” in Kelsey theater. Jorie Van Nest // Olaf Messenger 

To some this may sound cheesy, or even pretentious. Not everyone can stomach live readings of Walt Whitman with backing ambient music, or listen to young people opine on their hopes and dreams in monologue form. This production of “I and You” makes it work, however. The most important element to the success of the show are the effective asides, one-liners and absurd non-sequiturs. Even as a rumination on death, the show is truly funny. The production has a strong grasp on Gen-Z comedy, and these little ironic bits immediately endear the audience to the characters who, in a less competent production, could be insufferable.

The great execution is owed to the entire cast and crew, including the fantastic director, Matthew Humason ’21, whose vision was vital to ensuring the success of the project, especially considering the intricacies of the script. Not everyone can pull of this tonal juxtaposition pithy remarks on sexting and coming to terms with the inevitability of our death but this cast and crew did.

The other thing keeping the philosophical musings enjoyable was the fact that both of the characters spend pretty much the entire play being mostly wrong. There is no moment in which these high school kids figure out the meaning of life, no moment where, as one may expect at the start, Caroline’s tragic life experience makes her some sage genius. As the show continues, it becomes obvious that Caroline and Anthony’s coping mechanisms harm them. There are enough pieces of astute bedside wisdom to ultimately show that the effort is fruitful, but the characters remain genuine and human, not solely outlets for the playwright, Lauren Gunderson, to give us her hot takes on the meaning of life.

The show recognizes, on a fundamental level, something that many works of this sort fail to. Young people having to worry about death is tragic. Neither of the characters end up having a perfect relationship with their mortality, because none of us do. This dynamic and the aforementioned Gen-Z comedy keeps this show full of dialectical philosophical rumination surprisingly down-to-earth, which would have been impossible without great acting.

This play is very apt for the moment. Aside from the fact that a 2-person cast is much safer from a Covid-19 standpoint, the pandemic has forced many of us to think about death in a way we maybe hadn’t before.


graham10@stolaf.edu

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