If you were involved in the dramatic arts in high school, you probably don’t remember the performances as being the best part of your experience. Then again, perhaps the young people of the Senn High School collective The Yard won’t either. In the third and final production of their first season, the invisible feeling of communal self-discovery is as present as the very visible quality of the production itself.
Lauren Gunderson’s two-person play completely embraces adolescent reality and stars Senn Arts seniors Olivia Shine and Tevion Lanier. Poignantly staged by Dana Murphy, whose movement background informs the play’s most exquisitely expressive moments, “I & You” thrives on the lived-in experience of its leads.
Throughout the play, Shine and Lanier are actively processing their adolescence. Theater penetrates the core of their existence and there becomes a foundation for the more immediate concerns of their teen years. Surely, they are more than these characters, just as all people are more than the characters with which they identify. Yet there is a rare kind of transmutation here, a delicate actualizing that is all the more heartbreaking for being a distant memory for most of us.
The existence of The Yard is an acknowledgement that the absence of positive models for teens on stage is a problem not unlike the lack of racial and sexual representation in theater. And they are not alone in their mission. Co-artistic directors Joel Ewing and Mechelle Moe have selected their associate theater companies carefully. In Jackalope they find an ideal mix of their earlier collaborations with sensationalist The Hypocrites (“The 4th Graders Present…”) and the more even-tempered Raven Theatre (“Milk Like Sugar”). Beyond the mature performances they bring out, The Yard offers a sense of camaraderie and mentorship that is lovingly etched into every moment on stage.
The morals of “I & You” are timeless and vital. In the contrast between the poetry of Walt Whitman and Gunderson’s natural, elegant dialogue, we find the timeless pursuit of authenticity. The play posits that we are more than the stuff we are into but affirms that the stuff is nevertheless integral to the way we live.
An ode to art both new and old, “I & You” is the perfect distillation of The Yard’s inspiring inaugural season. (Kevin Greene)
The Yard in artistic alliance with Jackalope Theatre, 1106 West Thorndale, jackalopetheatre.org, $10-$15. Through March 6.