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A CurtainUp London London Review
This Is Our Youth

Lizzie Loveridge

Like now Ronald Regan is President of the United States . . . now how embarrassing is that!  
-- Jessica

Another look at This Is Our Youth

Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth makes a welcome return to London's Garrick Theatre with a new cast of three young American actors. Colin Hanks plays Den, Kieran Culkin plays Warren and Alison Lohman, Jessica. It is the management's intention to change the cast every eight weeks and This Is Our Youth is the ideal vehicle for these burgeoning careers. I was unable to see the Matt Damon/Casey Affleck/Summer Phoenix cast last summer.

I imagine each cast will bring a different emphasis to Lonergan's play which I think is a new classic. The director, the set and the production remain unchanged. I enjoyed it on second viewing and would queue up to go again. Colin Hanks, twenty-four year old son of Tom, is more a big bear, pomposity and clown-like bravado in the most difficult part of Dennis. His interpretation is less strung, less edgy. Maybe he is afraid of being disliked? Kieran Culkin is less the ingenuous victim in this situation but still a delightful oddball. Culkin is really convincing in his part and fluent. It is a lovely play for young actors as the parts lend themselves to naturalistic performances. But it follows, if Dennis is less malevolent, then Warren is less at threat of a descent into drugs. It shifts the emphasis of the play perceptibly. Alison Lohman is a very competent Jessica, maybe she is a girl brought up among women who has taken her mother's views on board so that she appears middle aged mentally.

It is all credit to Lonergan's writing that the play works with a different skew. This time I found myself musing on Dennis' undervaluing of Warren's precious collection and wondering whether this showed a real difference between Warren's and Dennis's upbringing in terms of their ability to feel love. The parallel is Warren's lack of concern that he has blown away a large consignment of cocaine. My companion was taken with Warren's basic honesty. No guile, no excuses, no pretence. I do look forward to seeing This Is Our Youth again.

Re-reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge on 20th November 2002 at the Garrick Theatre, St Martins Lane, London.

New cast: Colin Hanks, KieranCulkin and Alison Lohman

Booking to 15th March 2003
Box Office: 0870 890 1104

--- The Original Review ---
This Is Our Youth is a wonderful discovery. Three talented young stars of the future, all of whom have already made some high profile films, give up their time to appear onstage in London, visiting the basics of their craft.

For one, Jake Gyllenhaal (Warren), this is his stage debut, all the more hard to believe as he gives such an accomplished and secure performance. This is not to detract from the other two, 19 year old Anna Paquin, (Jessica) the young Canadian who was memorable in The Piano at a tender age, and 20 year old Hayden Christensen (Dennis), soon to be seen worldwide as Anakin Skywalker, who grows up to be Darth Vader, in the next two Star Wars movies. These three have been cleverly cast by Out of the Blue's Anna Waterhouse to play in up and coming playwright/screenwriter/film director Kenneth Lonergan's 1982 play, This Is Our Youth with Englishman, Laurence Boswell in the director's seat. Boswell's most recent production was the award winning revival of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg but a few years ago I much admired his Hamlet starring Paul Rhys. Out of the Blue was formed by Anna Waterhouse and Clare Lawrence who both graduated from Cambridge University in 1997.

I liked Kenneth Lonergan's play as much as Elyse Sommer who saw it several times, first in New York and then in the Berkshires (her review). The play appears to me not to have dated with its theme of the confused children of parents whose lives were changed by the 1960s. Warren's parents are divorced, one lives in New York, the other in California. His self made father has understandably not coped well with the murder of Warren's sister by someone from the community he rose up from and thought he had left behind. Dennis' famous artist father is growing old and needy whilst his mother, a liberal social worker involved with the socially deprived, devotes her attention away from her son and husband. Warren calls her "a bleeding heart dominatrix with a hairdo". We understandably hear least the mother of Jessica who is the one member of the trio who is currently in college.

Hayden Christensen faintly reminded me of the young Marlon Brando with his slightly raised chin and rasping voice. His performance as small time drug dealer, Dennis "I'm high on fear", is always strung tight, although there are many comic moments as he describes his relationship with Valerie, his equally volatile girlfriend whom we never see. Anna Paquin has the essence of the more prissy Jessica, formal and sometimes awkward, always argumentative but seeming more mature than the two slinking and twitching boys. She describes herself as someone "whose instinct is broken" and Paquin expresses Jessica's restraint. She even dresses like a company executive rather than a fashion student.

Tousled haired Jake Gyllenhaal is immensely likeable as he conveys Warren's tendency for a rather naïve honesty. He can only tell the truth in response to Jessica's question, "Do you want to mess around or do you want to have a serious discussion?" Gyllenhaal gives Warren all the fidgetting mannerisms of gauche youth. It is Warren who becomes more assured in the course of the play, when he is able to bite back at Dennis' put downs.

Parts of this play are sheer comedy, a comedy of social manners, as Dennis discusses his bizarre business deals and disasters on the phone. There is physical comedy too as Jessica and Warren roll around together on the bed, all we can see of Paquin are her black stockinged legs. Laurence Boswell gets natural and believable performances from these young actors and I can sense his guiding hand. The set is a scruffy apartment, essentially seedy. The lighting changes nicely for the early morning light.

There is only a very short time to see these actors making their London stage debut in this Lonergan play, but another of his plays Lobby Hero opens at the Donmar Warehouse in April. Laurence Boswell too has a new project at the Wyndhams Theatre in May when he will direct another American actor making her London stage debut. Madonna Ciccone will star in Up For Grabs, a comedy by Australian David Williamson about an art dealer.

Lobby Hero
The Waverly Gallery
This Is Our Youth
You might also want to check out
s review of Anna Paquin's recent New York debut performance in The Glory of Living.

This Is Our Youth

Written by Kenneth Lonergan
Directed by Laurence Boswell

Starring: Hayden Christensen, Anna Paquin, Jake Gyllenhaal
Design: Jeremy Herbert
Lighting Design: Adam Silverman
Sound design: Fergus O'Hare
Running time: Two hours twenty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 890 1104
Booking to 20th April 2002
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 19th March 2002 performance at the Garrick Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London WC2
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