Thursday, November 5, 2015

I AND YOU • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

“I and this mystery here we stand.” This is the first thing Anthony (Reynaldo Piniella) says to Caroline (Danielle Carlacci) in the Rep’s Studio Series opener, written by Lauren Gunderson. It’s a line from Walt Whitman’s poem, "Song of Myself,” and Anthony has unexpectedly come up to Caroline’s bedroom to work together on an English Lit. project about Whitman’s collection of poems, “Leaves of Grass” -- much to her surprise.

Caroline wasn’t expecting company, and as she brandishes a pair of scissors, demanding an explanation for his presence, Anthony tries to clarify why he’s there. He’s picked her to be a partner for the project, so he shows up, with the project’s deadline looming, carrying a pathetic poster he needs her help with. Anthony’s smart, athletic, full of calm charm and a lover of poetry and jazz, but Caroline is defensive and angsty, but she’s got good reason to be.
 Caroline (Danielle Carlacci) and Anthony (Reynaldo Piniella).
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
She hasn’t been to school in months due to a serious liver illness, and though she’s been sick all her life, things have lately taken a turn, and she spends a great deal of the play in ferocious defense of her wanting to be left alone in her lived-in chapel of solitude -- a cluttered teenager’s bedroom. When Caroline needs anything, instead of yelling for her mom, she just sends a text. Kids, right? 

After being taken by Anthony's genuine passion for Whitman, Caroline eventually warms to the ideas in the poetry, so she takes out her trusty craft box, and goes to work on putting a little glitter into Anthony’s pitiful efforts.

 Caroline (Danielle Carlacci) and Anthony (Reynaldo Piniella).
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The mystery that brought these two together, finally revealed in the last few minutes, is mind-blowing, so naturally I can’t say anything about that. But their discussions of Whitman’s poetry and its explorations of life and death give weight to Caroline’s battle with a body she has no control over, and serves to draw her closer to Anthony, who’s curious about this classmate whom he, nor anyone else at school, ever sees. They’re both what the other needs. Though the ending comes down like an anvil, threatening to overpower most of everything that has come before, it will definitely spark some after-thought, and plenty of conversation.

Anthony (Reynaldo Piniella) and Caroline (Danielle Carlacci).
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Director Jane Page undeniably understands the dynamic of teenagers, and the connection comes in the gratifying, gentler, quieter moments between the two. Eric Barker’s scenic design hits the mark as a teen girl’s bedroom, covered with photos, complemented by all of the essential tech toys. Carlacci’s Caroline stands about a foot shorter than Piniella -- a happy coincidence that hints at her illness. She’s all bark from the start -- loud and combative, and seeing her finally give in is satisfying, while seeing her illness take its toll in a frightening physical breakdown is painful. Piniella’s appealing lankiness wins you over gradually, as he tries to push Caroline towards optimism, getting her to open up about herself despite her tendency to push everyone away.

For some thoughtful theater and equally thoughtful performances, check it out at the Rep Studio. It’s playing until the 15th.

Anthony (Reynaldo Piniella) and Caroline (Danielle Carlacci).
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Written by Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Jane Page
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through November 15 | tickets: $50 - $65
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm, selected Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm and 7pm

Caroline: Danielle Carlacci*
Anthony: Reynaldo Piniella*

Scenic Designer: Eric Barker
Costume Designer: Marci Franklin
Lighting Designer: John Wylie
Sound Designer: Rusty Wandall
Casting Directors: Ric Cole and Bob Cline
Stage Manager: Shannon B. Sturgis*

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

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