HomeBristol Times‘I and You’ celebrates opening night at Bristol Riverside Jan. 27

‘I and You’ celebrates opening night at Bristol Riverside Jan. 27

Actors JJ Wilks and Silvia Dionicio portray Anthony and Caroline, two teens who form an unlikely bond

Unlikely friendship: JJ Wilks and Silvia Dionicio portray Anthony and Caroline, respectively, in Bristol Riverside Theatre’s next mainstage show ‘I and You,’ which celebrates opening night Jan. 27 and runs through Feb. 13. Source: Bristol Riverside Theatre

At a quick glimpse, I and You, the next offering in Bristol Riverside Theatre’s 2021-22 mainstage season, is a story that we’ve all likely heard before – two teens, one of them a high school jock, form an unlikely friendship after being forced to work together on a class project.

However, I and You, which celebrates opening night this Thursday, at 7:30 p.m. and runs through Feb. 13, is so much more than that.

For the full 90-minute run, audiences are invited into Caroline’s bedroom, which serves as her entire world. Due to a liver disease, this sardonic teen is trapped at home and hasn’t been able to attend school in months. But one day, the monotony is broken when Anthony, an athlete with a sensitive side, arrives at her door bearing a beat-up copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and an urgent assignment from their English teacher. They end up forming a deep bond that neither anticipated.

Ahead of the show’s premiere, The Times chatted with actors JJ Wilks and Silvia Dionicio, who portray Anthony and Caroline, respectively, both of whom applauded the simple yet enjoyable complexities of I and You, written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Gia Forakis.

“When I read the play originally, I was completely touched by it and loved the story. There’s a lot of layers. At the surface, it may look like just two teenagers who would’ve never met under other circumstances,” said Dionicio. “But they talk about walls, sickness, healing, acceptance and even race. I think that’s beautiful. We don’t even know we’re listening to all these different things. We’re just in the journey and that’s the cool thing about this play – we’re just enjoying it but deep down, it’s slowly changing us.”

Wilks, who is thrilled to be back on stage for the first time in two years, echoed his co-star’s sentiment.

“I love that it’s about two young people and just their experience without a grown up influence. The play is just Anthony and Caroline, just two characters. It’s just them connecting and communicating with each other,” he said. “I also love that this play is so deceptive because you think it’s so simple. You think it’s about this one thing and then there’s so many layers to it and it keeps unfolding as the audience watches. It’s definitely not what you expect.”

When asked to describe her character of Caroline, “snarky” was the first word to come to Dionico’s mind. But this tough exterior is a result of having to deal with a scary illness, not unlike what every human being endured when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.

“She has had to develop her own system to survive in her room just like we all did during the pandemic,” said Dionicio. “We all had to come up with our own ways to adjust to a new normal, a new routine, and this girl has been resilient. She’s funny, strong and super artistic and I think she’s really great. She’s making it work for her. She wasn’t relying on other people to connect through the experience. She speaks her mind no matter what. But she’s also a little scared because she’s going through something very intense and she’s only 17.”

In preparation for the role, Dionicio completed extensive research on liver disease so that she could portray it accurately on stage. She said this was “probably one of the hardest things” she’s done as an actress.

As for Wilks, he described 17-year-old Anthony as being a deeper character than initially meets the eye. “On paper, he looks like he has it all together. He’s on the basketball team, he gets straight As in everything, he plays saxophone. He has all this stuff going for him, but he’s also kind of this secret goofball,” said Wilks. “He also has a secret. You immediately find out a lot about Caroline, but it takes a little bit longer to learn about Anthony. It’s been cool to work with that balance of this guy who has it all together, but does he really?”

While Dionicio and Wilks couldn’t give away the ending, they revealed that it’s “very surprising” and “mindblowing.” According to BRT producing director Amy Kaissar, I and You was selected prior to the pandemic largely because of its conclusion.

Kaissar said, “At the time, we picked it because it was just such a great ride with a big fat juicy twist at the end that had us all immediately flipping back to the beginning to read it again. Each person on staff who read it immediately handed it to the next person with a, ‘You have to stop what you’re doing and read this.’”

In addition to getting a major surprise at the conclusion of the show, Dionicio and Wilks hope theater-goers take away a few key messages. Dionicio is excited for audiences to see a character of color be one that’s snarky and borderline unlikeable, something she said rarely happens.

Dionicio added, “There’s so much complexity that comes with just being a human. We’re all human. It doesn’t matter what our color is, our ethnicity, our sexual orientation, all these things that divide us that really shouldn’t. We all get sick, we all fall in love, we all get scared. I think the pandemic was a reflection of that and I think the show is a reflection of that. It doesn’t matter who you are. We are all going through our own battles.”

For Wilks, his main goal is to break down any walls attendees may enter the theater with.

“I hope if they come in guarded or shielded or they have assumptions about these two people when they first see them, that we’re able to take down their walls and open them up a little bit and have their hearts receptive because really, what this play is about is connection,” he said. “We see two people who are completely different and we watch them connect. I’m hoping the audience can see themselves in one of these characters, or be like, ‘Wow, I judged one of them before, but now I’ve changed my mind,’ and hopefully go through life a little bit like that.”

Tickets for I and You start at $43, with discounts available for students and military. Audience members must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test (PCR or Antigen) taken within 48 hours of the performance start time. They must also wear a mask. Visit brtstage.org for tickets and more information. Bristol Riverside Theatre is located at 120 Radcliffe St. in Bristol.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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