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This Is Our YouthAdditional Comments by Elyse Sommer
I can't believe that you think that I'm not on your side. — Dennis
Eighteen years have now elapsed since New York audiences got their first glimpse into the pathetic, wasteful and misguided lives of a trio of post-teens — two young men and one woman— the indolent spoiled and rich children on Manhattan's upper West Side. I expect that many will be able to judge for themselves exactly how close or how far they are today from the social, political, and economic issues that conspired to make Lonergan's comically irresponsible, emotionally at-sea characters who they are.
The environment of these crude, rude, sexually active, drug dealing and taking characters is one that is rather more familiarly and nostalgically depicted in the mid-20th century works of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. However, the specific environment changed drastically enough by 1982, the time of the play and the time of the Reagan administration. By then the disillusionment with one's family, the country's politics, and the stigma of casually dropping out of college had sent the young on an even more unsettling downward spiral.
A universe away from Salinger and the quaint rebukes of the "phony" life that prompted alienation from the likes of Holden, the characters of This Is Our Youth are hell-bent on self-destruction. They attempt, mostly in ways that make us laugh uneasily, to turn the world they have inherited on its ear. Nothing about the plot is especially novel, but the wise, often wacky, street talk will prick up your ears as you observe some outrageously rationalized, comical, anti-social antics.
Lonergan, who would follow up his acclaim for This Is Our Youth with such laudable plays as The Waverly Gallery , Lobby Hero and the excellent film You Can Count On Me , need not be concerned that the topicality and the timeliness of his portrait of unfocused and misguided youth, even if it seems just a bit less shocking or even alarming in the light of things as they are today. He should be pleased with the casting of the play's three significant roles, as well as the well-focused direction by Anna d. Shapiro (August: Osage County , Of Mice and Men ).
Kieran Culkin is already well-established in Lonergan's camp having appeared in his The Starry Messenger as well as in the film Margaret that Lonergan wrote and directed. He gives an impressively hyper-kinetic performance as Dennis Ziegler. Dennis is a loud-mouthed, savvy, wheeler-dealer in drugs and anything marketable which includes his best friend Warren Straub's life-long collection of rare memorabilia.
Michael Cera, who is probably best known for the film Juno , expertly facilitates his insecure character's unbalanced intelligence with the dopey facade he has so artfully crafted and mastered. An aimless, confused youth who has just absconded with $15,000 in cash belonging to his father, Warren has only a pretty blonde Jessica Goldman (Tavi Gevinson) on his mind.
Gevinson, who only recently graduated from high school, is making the kind of Broadway debut that makes one think she has what it takes for a future on the stage. She is simply terrific as the cleverly coy Jessica, a sporting, sexually permissive sort of girl. She isn't a fool, but she can't say no to spending a night with Warren in the most expensive suite at the Plaza hotel. The irony that pervades the play is the gnawing feeling that these young people are doing all the wrong things for the right reasons.
Complimenting the play is Todd Rosenthal's spectacular setting: the lights glow behind the curtained windows of the apartment buildings that rise above and frame Dennis's apartment. That apartment, by the way, is paid for by Dennis' parents to keep him away from home. Despite the mischievously meandering dialogue that blankets most of Act I, This is Our Youth is often funny. And the raucous activities do lead to something consequential finally happening in Act II.
Actually, Kieran Culkin already had a chance to tune up and refine his Dennis when he stepped into the role during a well-received London revival in 2003, when he was still closer to Dennis's age (Culkin is 31). To read that review go here . Michael Cera is 26. His nerd-ish character in the TV series Arrested Development had little chance of getting his hands on a bundle of cash from that serial's riches-to-rags family.
There's nothing quite like that special kick of a first encounter with a newly minted play by a still emerging playwright, which was the case when I first saw This Is Our Youth. Still, there's something equally compelling about seeing how a writer's first "baby" holds and can adapt and renew itself courtesy of an exciting director and cast, especially when a play is so specifically set in a certain era.
You might want to check out my original review which also covers a regional production. That version, without changing a word of Lonergan's text, put a somewhat different than intended spin on the last scene than was indicated by the script's stage directions. ( link to this double review .
I've followed Lonergan's career, both on stage and screen. And while I haven't liked every one of his plays as much as This is Your Youth follow-ups Waverly Gallery and Lobby Hero, reviews of all are available in our archives and linked below — and so is my review of long-in-the making film Margaret in which Kieran Culkin as had a role.
Waverly Gallery - in the Berkshires
Waverly Gallery- Off-Broadway