Weekender

The Next Stage Theatre Company’s ‘I and You’ pairs love and poetry

Nayib Felix and Torri Bouslough and star in the two-character play, “I and You.”
Nayib Felix and Torri Bouslough and star in the two-character play, “I and You.” Photo provided

The Next Stage Theatre Company will present “I and You,” a dramatic play by Lauren Gunderson, in The State Theatre’s upstairs studio.

According to Director John Gresh, “I and You” is the story of 17-year-old Caroline, home-bound because of a liver disorder, and her classmate, Anthony. Anthony arrives unannounced to enlist her help on a class project about Walt Whitman’s poetry, and over the course of preparing for the project, he tries to get Caroline out of her shell.

“I think audiences will relate to this play because we see young people — in this case, teenagers — struggle and come to terms with profound life issues: living, death, friendship, love,” Gresh said.

Last fall, Gresh taught “I and You” as part of an introduction to theater class at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

“Mary Skees, the producer and artistic director of The Next Stage, approached me about the project,” he said. “I was involved in the auditioning process, along with Mary. We have a tremendous cast of young actors — Torri Bouslough, and Nayib Felix. They are fearless. I enjoy working with them both.”

Felix, from Manhattan, said he has always been curious about acting. After completing his undergraduate work at Penn State, he opted to pursue his passion rather than study clinical psychology.

“I play Anthony, a high school kid seeming to have everything together,” Felix said. “The kind of student who plays sports, is cultured, and is pretty popular. He bursts into Caroline’s life with a poetry assignment she was not ready for.”

The young actor was captivated with the intensely intimate nature of the show.

“It’s an intriguing show, as it is so intimate and captivating,” Felix said. “There are only two characters in one small setting. The characters meet for the first time and have to get over this awkward first impression. The story is about finishing a poetry project, which they relate to for different reasons, but, more than that, it’s also about two people getting to know each other for the first time in a way they probably never have with anyone else.”

Bouslough, who plays Caroline, believes this play will leave audiences richer than when they first came in.

“I immediately fell in love with the story when I read it, as I hope others will too,” she said. “It deals with topics we all can relate to: life and death, young love and acceptance, poems and Poptarts! With all the recent hateful events happening in America, I fully believe this story speaks to all that we are dealing with and gives wise words to hear and take with you into the world.”

The production may have a small team, but the effort is quite large.

“This is a pretty small cast and crew, so it really feels like we’re very close,” Felix said. “We’re all working to make sure this will be the best it can be. I got involved through a recommendation, fell in love after reading the script, I came to audition, and the rest is history.”

Skees, who is a founding member of The Next Stage, believes the true beauty of a production like this is seeing the actors and crew members grow and evolve along with the play.

“Of course, since I see the show so often, I have favorite lines and turning points that I wait for each time, holding my breath,” Skees said. “The best part for me, for all of our plays, is watching the show come together and then continue to grow through the last part of the rehearsal process.”

Skees said her favorite part of working on ‘I and You’ is seeing Caroline and Anthony connect through the poetry of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”

The cast and crew believe that the intimacy and “reality” of the piece are what set it apart from standard dramas.

“It is a seriously, sincerely, beautiful story that will wrap your hearts and minds in it, and the ending is such a shock that you’d never guess that would happen, so you have to see to find out,” Bouslough said.

IF YOU GO

  • What: The Next Stage Theatre Company’s“I and You”
  • When: 8 p.m. July 28-July 30 and Aug. 4-6; 3 p.m. July 31 and Aug. 7
  • Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
  • Info: www.thestatetheatre.org
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