A teenager’s lived-in bedroom, where two students awkwardly and somewhat reluctantly get to know each other, might not present itself as a place where compelling theater dwells. But the latest production from Portland Stage finds a good story to be told in just such a location.

The two young characters of Lauren Gunderson’s sweet and thoughtful play “I and You” have a lot on their minds.  Beyond having the usual, youthful conversations about what’s cool and what’s not, this pair goes on to investigate everything from classic poetry to questions of love, life and death in the Cait Robinson-directed show now running in Portland. Laced with gentle laughs, the 90-minute play, with no intermission, delves deeper and deeper into some serious questions while, like the two well-drawn characters, maintaining a high likability factor.

Caroline (Sarah Lord) is lost in a moment of teenage exuberance when classmate Anthony (Pascal Arquimedes) arrives unannounced with a project on poet Walt Whitman that he claims the two must complete immediately. Caroline, who thought she was free of such tasks due to a congenital liver ailment that is keeping her at home, is first defensive at his intrusion. Then, she’s puzzled by what he unthreateningly proposes and finally intrigued by the challenge of making sense of Whitman’s vision and, by implication, her own stifled life.

The locally rooted Lord gives much physical expression to what her character is thinking. But Caroline is a live wire that may malfunction, like the smoke detector in her room often does, at any moment. Arquimedes’ Anthony trails after her with affectionate bewilderment and a sort of slightly-more-mature guy’s care and concern.

Though a fair amount older than their characters, both actors credibly inhabit the highs and lows of teenage emotion, at least those that brighter kids might experience as they think through ideas. Whitman’s embracing words, as promoted by the sensitive Anthony, challenge Caroline to strengthen her tenuous hold on a belief that her life is still worth living.

A bit of romantic spark between the characters, not unexpected but nonetheless welcome, further keeps the youngsters real in an intellectually shaded script. All-too-brief moments of recorded music, from jazz to classic rock, also serve to pause the growing sense of urgency within the dialogue as the play builds toward a surprise ending.

The scenic design by Riw Rakkulchon spreads what appears to be a converted attic bedroom broadly across the wide stage while the casual costumes by Fabian Fidel Aguilar fit well with the increasingly comfortable camaraderie established between Caroline and Anthony.

Whitman fans should have a lot of fun with this play. But anyone with a taste for heartwarming theater will also do just fine with “I and You.”

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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