Jessica Lynn Carroll (Caroline) and Devion McArthur (Anthony) star in ‘I and You’ by Lauren Gunderson.
It’s only natural that a teenage girl would be alarmed when a strange boy suddenly enters her bedroom.
Even when Anthony (Devion McArthur) explains that he’s there to work on an English class assignment with her, Caroline (Jessica Lynn Carroll) remains wary. That’s how Lauren Gunderson’s intriguing “I and You” opens in its world premiere at Marin Theatre Company.
Caroline has a chronic liver condition that has kept her homebound for most of her life. She knows she could die if she doesn’t get a liver transplant, but she seems reasonably well resigned to what might lie ahead. Moreover, she remains optimistic and has dreams for the future.
In contrast to the frail white Caroline, Anthony is a tall black basketball player. They’re supposed to prepare a presentation analyzing the use of the pronouns “I” and “you” in Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”
All of this is news to Caroline, who’s not familiar with the poem. She has to become knowledgeable in a hurry because the assignment is due the next day.
Caroline’s mother is nowhere to be seen, but Anthony assures Caroline that her mother sent him up to her room. Later, Caroline texts her mom to ask for a Coke for Anthony.
During the course of a long session that extends late into the night, Caroline gradually warms up to Anthony and becomes excited about “Song of Myself.” She sees that in some ways it speaks directly to her. She also opens up to Anthony, revealing that for all her bravado, she’s afraid.
Sensitively directed by Sarah Rasmussen, “I and You” is mainly Caroline’s story with Anthony apparently there to unwittingly guide her to a better emotional place. The surprise ending helps to make that point.
Running about 85 minutes without intermission, the play has a few slow spots. For the most part, though, it moves along, thanks to the two actors, who are quite believable as teenagers.
Carroll’s Caroline may be a bit too believable with rapid speech that can typify teenage girls but that can be hard to understand at times.
Michael Locher’s set features an array of interesting photos on the walls. Caroline reveals that she took most of them with her smartphone. The set also features simple, inexpensive furniture that could be indicative of her family’s financial situation.
The MTC production of “I and You” is part of a rolling world premiere under the auspices of the National New Play Network. This alliance of nonprofit theater companies fosters the development of new American plays.
With a rolling world premiere, at least three companies agree to stage the play within a 12-month period. “I and You” is slated for additional productions in Maryland and Indiana.
If the MTC production is any indication, the play is likely to be snapped up by other companies, too. It’s an audience pleaser.
“I and You” will continue through Nov. 3 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. For tickets and information, call (415) 388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org.