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Arts & Culture

Syracuse Stage Play "I and You" Filmed on set had Feel and Themes Related to Pandemic

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Syracuse Stage
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Syracuse Stage welcomed actors back into the Archbold Theater last month, to film playwright Lauren Gundersen's "I and You.” Matthew Nerber reports why this intimate drama about an unlikely friendship feels particularly relevant today.

Sickness, death, and isolation. Sound familiar? These timely themes are at the heart of "I and You" by Lauren Gundersen, the macabre yet sweetly funny play currently streaming courtesy of Syracuse Stage.

Phoebe Holden plays Caroline, a teenage girl who’s experiencing the final stages of liver failure. She’s stuck at home waiting on a transplant, and has all but given up hope. Enter classmate Anthony played by Cole Taylor.

Anthony is a basketball star and poetry lover, and has volunteered to help Caroline with a class project on Walt Whitman. And though “I and You” is ultimately a love story, sparks don’t necessarily fly right away:

An early scene shows the two bickering and posturing, a coolness that melts away as they spend more time together and have differences fade into compatibilities.

“I and You” takes place entirely in Caroline’s bedroom, and director Melissa Crespo says that watching the relationship develop between the two characters is especially poignant today:

“And this unlikely friendship that evolves really shows us that we are social creatures, and we need each other.  And we have so much in common if you really just sit down and talk for a while.”

In order to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines, the play was produced in a bubble. Cast and crew quarantined in a hotel before rehearsal, and when in the theater only the actors were permitted to be maskless.

Both Holden and Taylor said that they had no trouble relating to their characters, and in fact, as actors, they formed a bond similar to that of Caroline and Anthony in the play.

“Phoebe and I kind of had no choice but to spend so much time together.  But I think for this play it really worked out because at the end of the day, it’s two people meeting each other for the first time.  And we kind of mirrored that in real life and to say, I really think she's incredible,” said Taylor.

“ His was the only face I saw in person that entire four weeks, which is kind of crazy to think about.  And the only person I could be in contact with that entire time.  I just have to fall in love very night,” said Holden.

“I and You” is about finding deep connection where you least expect it, and for Crespo the challenge was translating the intimacy of in-person performance to video. It was a little like making a movie –– she had to make decisions about camera angles and close-ups, and the show was edited like a film too.  Even so, after theaters being dark for so long, the challenge was a welcome one.

“I got a little teary-eyed the first say when we stepped into the theater because I hadn’t been in a theater for over a year.  I’ve spent my whole life in the theater and so I will never take it for granted again.”

Ultimately, Crespo thinks the play will resonate as a metaphor for a certain sense of longing many have felt during the pandemic. She hopes audiences will be reminded, from their homes, of what makes the theater so special.

“This is my love letter to the theater in a time when we've been starved for it.”

"I and You" runs through May 23rd.  Information and streaming passes are at SyracuseStage.org