Kelly Kesey Directs “I and You” – Director’s Corner

Director’s Corner

Kelly Kesey Directs “I and You”

Photo by Mathew Caine

“I love when a play ends and I go home and it’s in my brain and in my heart and I’m processing it with my loved ones, and I’m asking questions. I’m exploring what does it mean for me, what might I do differently because of the experience of the play?”  –Kelly Kesey


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Kelly Kesey arrives for her interview at the WCT Playhouse breathless and excited. She’s in final rehearsals for “I And You”–an edgy drama, heady stuff about two teens in an unlikely connection, along with it being her first time directing. Someone might think Kesey would be fraught with paralyzing anxiety. On the contrary, she’s thrilled over her newest role at WCT, inspired by the brilliant Lauren Gunderson script and there’s a spark in her eyes when it comes to talking about her two young actors, Aria Silveira and Oscar Montelongo Medina.


Kesey already has established herself on the WCT stage as a star in string of particularly memorable hit shows:  Kitty Fleming in “The Angel of Chatham Square”, Glorie in “Grace and Glorie” and three separate female roles in one show – Elaine Navazio, Bobbi Michele and Jeanette Fisher – in Neil Simon’s late 60s comedy, “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers”.


To say that Kesey possesses a natural virtuosity on the live stage would be an understatement. She’s also married to an actor, Rod Granger, who has his own considerable range. Kesey and Granger both work professionally in the healthcare field and so the fact that a main character in the play deals with a serious illness further compounds Kesey’s passion for directing this gem of a production.


For a woman who lives and breathes the magic and the adrenalin power of the stage, it’s no stretch to imagine her making an effective director.


  1. Your first time out directing. Excited?
  2. People had suggested I try directing. While my first love is acting, I hadn’t considered directing until I was handed this script and read it. Then I got excited.


  1. So what is it about directing that you like?
  2. Right now I’m enjoying exploring the script from all its different angles and trying to figure out where the writer’s vision and mine come together.


  1. What do you like in particular about this story?
  2. It’s like “Grace and Glorie”, only in a Gen Z sort of way. Meaning, it’s about their relationship and each character’s internal exploration.


  1. For those familiar with our shows, “Grace and Glorie” remains one of WCT’s most powerful and moving hits. It was about two women in an unexpected connection.


  1. It’s similar in this play. The playwright has given her two characters something to work with. It’s what drew me in when I read the script. All the way through, I was laughing out loud, and of course I cried. The play brings forth the whole range of emotions and presents characters that I, and the audience, can relate to.


  1. I read somewhere that Lauren Gunderson was named the most prolific living playwright of 2018. She’s apparently written political comedies, historical dramas, explorations of death and legacy.
  2. All with a strong female character.


  1. Then Caroline is strong in this play?
  2. Not at first. As the story opens, Caroline’s in bed, home alone, ill. Anyone who has struggled with severe illness faces losing hope. It can be a very trying time. Caroline’s parents have also recently split up. So she’s struggling with the question—is this partly my fault. She’s dealing with all this burden, on top of not being in school during her senior year and not attending prom. You can imagine how a teenage girl would feel. A lot of people would be laid out flat by all that.


  1. She’s alone with it all?
  2. Yes. Her phone is her life. She communicates to the world through it. She talks about how all her friends are putting encouraging pictures and phrases on Facebook. But it kind of pisses her off. It’s not all one fuzzy pretty picture. It’s more serious. It’s part of the challenge of what she’s going through.


  1. What keeps her going? Is she a hardcore realist?
  2. Yes, but there’s a lot more to her.


  1. What does Aria Silveira bring to her role of Caroline?
  2. Aria has told me, what drew her to the part, she’s a lot like Caroline, in her sharp wit. She does it beautifully. It’s a feistiness. She’s quick-witted and cynical by nature. It’s what we fall in love with in her.


  1. She won’t give up, cave in?
  2. If she does, she’ll do it kicking and screaming.


  1. So then her strength does emerge?
  2. Her strength is brought out by Anthony. He’s the boy next door. He’s athletic, smart, good at school. He means well by her and encourages her to dream again.


  1. How does she receive him?
  2. At first she’s confused by the uninvited boy showing up in her bedroom. Her initial reaction is tension, angst, fear. It’s only after they start working together on the Walt Whitman project for class that you see them start to relate.


  1. So their relationship becomes central to the action?
  2. It’s wanting to know what’s going to happen between the two of them. Is there going to be a romance? Is she going to get better?


  1. Looking at the title, “I And You”, there must be something else special about their particular relationship?
  2. It’s inspirational. Anthony’s there for Caroline, he’s solid, he says he’s not scared by what’s going on with her. For her, the isolation can be brutal. Mostly with girls, the way they are with each other, the cliques, you’re in or you’re out, and with this generation, it’s so much more public with social media. It can be very hurtful and the more we can say, let’s reach out across these lines, the better off we are.


  1. How will the play satisfy the audience?
  2. They’ll enjoy the humor between the two characters. There’s also a spiritual connection that I think will cause a lot of people to think about their own connectedness in a different way? Until Anthony comes into Caroline’s life, it seems pretty hopeless. But then something happens and they’re both cast in a new direction.


  1. In other words the play asks us to consider what’s possible in our own lives?
  2. Yes. It’s about the giving of one’s self, that’s how we do it, that’s how we save each other in this life–through small acts of kindness.


  1. What’s been the hardest part of putting the show together.
  2. I have to say the soundtrack. During the performance, Anthony’s into jazz, Coltrane and Miles Davis. And Caroline’s’s into Elvis. Coming up with more than just oldies was my biggest struggle. But then I found: “Love Come to Life” by Big Daddy, “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus, “Rise” by Katy Perry “Brighter Than the Sun” by Colbie Caillat, three songs about hope by American Idol star Danny Gokey, “Human” by Rag’n’Bone Man. Wait until you hear the music!

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