The Peter H. Luce Playreaders is quite the establishment, having started as a handful of people in the 1990s, and now numbering some 40 participants during the summer. Typically, the group meets on Wednesday mornings for an informal read-through of that week’s play at the Tisbury Senior Center. On a rotating basis, members volunteer to be the director and characters in the cast. However, on Jan. 8, at 4 pm, the Playreaders are offering something special; they are presenting “I and You” by awardwinning playwright Lauren Gunderson at the M.V. Film Center. Starring John Brannen and Jacqueline Stallings from the Playreaders group, the event is designed to benefit the Vineyard Haven library’s building fund for their much-anticipated new community room. The new space is designed to accommodate more than 100 people, affording a more open area for the library’s regular programming for adults and children, as well as views of the proposed outdoor space. Many of the programs draw people from all over the Island, such as the lectures by Professor Philip Weinstein and the “Great Decisions” international political discussions. Since 2007, the library’s programming has grown more than 300 percent, while the program room has not.
The event will kick off with filmed comments from the likes of Al Franken, Geraldine Brooks, and Livingston Taylor about the library. But, of course, the focus will be on the play. “I and You” is about the search for connection, as two young adults navigate a rocky path to a relationship on the night before a class assignment is due. While they work together on the project in witty, nonstop repartee, they discover what makes up an “I and You” relationship, which is a challenge, as Caroline is housebound with a life-threatening illness, while Anthony is a popular, thriving athlete. Ultimately, it’s about a relationship between two young people who come together in an unlikely connection. The play’s director, Linda Comstock, says, “‘I and You’ reflects that no matter who you are, we are all human, and the gift of life that we give each other can be profound.”
Myra Stark, a library trustee, member of the building fund, and a Playreader, says, “Every year — except for during COVID — [the Playreaders] have appeared at venues such as Pathways, the Hebrew Center, West Tisbury Congregational Church, the Neighborhood Convention, and the Vineyard Haven library, so it seems natural to appear at the Film Center. Richard Paradise kindly agreed to allow us to use the stage for the benefit of the library’s building fund.” Speaking about the evolution of the reading into a benefit, Comstock explains that every year, the Vineyard Haven library hosts a performance by the Playreaders
After talking about this year’s performance, Comstock thought, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to bring it to a larger venue and make it a fundraiser for the library? This was a perfect storm. The library’s space is so tight for all their great programs, and we could turn this into an opportunity to raise money for the planned new community room, which is so desperately needed.”
The choice of the play, though, was not a second thought. Comstock says, “We have a theme every month in Playreaders, and in September it was the director’s choice. ‘I and You’ immediately came to my mind, and I grabbed the opportunity to present it once more, as there were a handful of Playreaders who hadn’t seen it the first time. As the last words of the play were spoken, the room fell silent, with several members reaching for the Kleenex box.” And as the Washington Speaks’ critic wrote, “Unforgettable. The end will leave you gasping.”
It is not a surprise, then, that Gunderson is one of the most prolifically produced playwrights in the U.S. since 2015, topping the list three times, including this season. In 2019 alone, she had over 16 plays in production, and has received multiple honors, including the Lanford Wilson Award.
There will be time to mingle with others at the postshow wine reception, courtesy of Our Market. But just before, as an added bonus, there will be the big reveal of who won the gift certificates multiple Island businesses have donated to the library’s cause. Everybody will have received a potentially lucky number when they enter the Film Center. The generous donors are Salvatore’s, CB Stark, Cronig’s, Our Market, the Green Room, Louisa Gould Gallery, Nochi, Pie Chicks, Vineyard Pilates, Caleen’s Day Spa, and Bunch of Grapes bookstore.
“I and You” will be presented on Sunday, Jan. 8, at 4 pm, at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. Tickets are $25, and can be purchased online at bit.ly/playreaders.