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Wharton play explores coming of age while dying

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Tess Galbiati and Greg Hunter in "I and You."

A sheltered and terminally ill Caroline has her world cracked open when her classmate, Anthony, introduces her to new music and perspectives on life. Sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve seen renditions of “The Fault in Our Stars” or “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl.” “I and You” is playwright Lauren Gunderson’s look at how to grow up knowing you won’t grow old.

The American Theater Critics Association’s Steinberg new play award for 2014 went to “I and You,” which The New York Times called a “sentimental character study.” The Wharton Center has staged an original production as the last in this season’s Illuminate Series. A talkback follows Friday night’s performance.

This 80-minute coming-of-age story encourages the audience to re-examine the ways they form authentic human connections.

Tess Galbiati plays Caroline, a vibrant girl with a failing liver. Forced to miss months of school, she relies on social media feeds for her daily human interaction. Galbiati explains while Caroline’s situation is extreme, this does not make her less relatable.

“A lot of kids today are living in non-normative circumstances, just with like general fears that they have about what might happen to them at school,” said Galbiati, a Chicago actress making her Wharton debut. “I think that giving kids characters they can relate to in circumstances that may look like their own, though not the same, I think is really important.”

While Caroline and Anthony struggle through their differences, an invisible third character offers insight on the matter.

“It’s a wonderful connection to Whitman’s 'Leaves of Grass' because that poem is so connected to human nature, nature and sexuality,” said Bert Goldstein, the director of the Wharton production. “I think that’s why it appealed to Anthony in this particular moment in his life.”

To Greg Hunter (Anthony), playing a young African American male coping with loss was not difficult to channel.

“With the Black Lives Matter movement for example and the idea of if I know someone that dies, I don’t want them to become just a hashtag,” said Hunter, an MSU grad with a master’s in acting. “I think the way Gunderson uses “Leaves of Grass” not only adds a literary source — which enforces the idea of the necessity of literature in this time — we’re using it to understand what it means to die but, not to disappear.”


"I and You"

Friday, March 22, 8 p.m.

Sunday, March 24, 1 p.m.

Tickets $29, Students $19

Wharton Center for Performing Arts

750 E Shaw Ln., East Lansing

whartoncenter.com

(517) 432-2000

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