“I and You”, a new production from Pygmalion Theater Company, explores empathy and the power of art through the perspective of two teenagers. Anthony is a popular jock who visits a seriously ill student, Caroline, to drop off a class reading assignment: Walt Whitman’s poetry collection, “Leaves of Grass.” Anthony and Caroline are not friends and they seem to share little in common. However, as the pair delves deep into conversation they find themselves sharing an intimate connection they could not have possibly imagined.
“I and You” is entirely performed by two young actors: there are no characters besides the two central students. Director Teresa Sanderson decided to cast these two roles with actual young students. Cora Fossen, earning her first professional acting gig before graduating high school, is playing Caroline. While Fossen has been performing most of her life, her background is in dance. She has only been acting seriously for about a year. She says that this play immediately stood out to her for its honesty. “As a teenager, a lot of the plays or movies geared toward my friends can feel contrived and pandering, but this show feels like Lauren Gunderson perfectly captures what it’s like to be a young person now,” said Fossen.
Performing a challenging, complex lead role is daunting for any young actor but for Fossen the stakes feel especially high. In her first show with a professional company, she truly carries the show. The play relies on her performance and on-stage chemistry with only one other actor. Despite this pressure, Sanderson expressed a confidence in her cast to give honest performances that engage audiences. In fact, Sanderson says that she enjoyed directing “I and You” precisely because it gave her an opportunity to work with fresh talent. She says, “Young actors rock. Okay, all actors rock, but young actors tend to be open and bright and giving. Honestly, those people that say ‘kids today’ don’t hang out with enough kids.”
Playing Anthony is Tristan Johnson, a twenty-one-year-old student at Westminster College. Though he has more experience in the theatre world with seven professional credits, he is still a young actor developing his craft. He expressed enthusiasm for the opportunities of the role. He said, “The growth and development of this character and his relationship with Caroline is fascinating and something I’m very excited to explore.” Sanderson’s casting choices reflect a desire to portray authenticity on stage and her actors’ main goal is to build a believable, engaging relationship.
The show’s team feels that this production will speak to audiences and that the script says something meaningful about the world we live in. Fossen said, “I think a young person watching the show will be able to see parts of themselves scattered through both Caroline and Anthony…This is a show that is definitely going to stick with people and I can’t wait to see how they react to it.” Sanderson believes that audiences will engage with the show’s portrayal of connection. She said, “We all like to see shows about ‘us’; this is a story about letting someone in, needing another human…[It is a] simple story and one we all can relate to.”
“I and You” will be performed at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center from February 2-17. Performances will run Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m., with an extra matinee on February 17 at 2:00 p.m. For more information, visit pygmalionproductions.org.