Whats Happening

“THIS IS OUR YOUTH”

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Any play that uses the song ‘Mystery Roach’ from Frank Zappa’s ‘200 Motels’, not to mention another Zappa reference to the song ‘50/50’, gets bonus points from me.

This Is Our Youth, currently at the Cort Theater, gets all the above bonus consideration, but this production hardly needs any bonus points at all; it earns every moment. From direction and performance to design, This Is Our Youth makes an essential statement about coming of age in America. The star of the show, however brilliant the other elements, is the script.

I have to admit, I was initially hesitant about seeing this play. I had read it before, some years ago, and remembered liking it, but I don’t remember being bowled over by it like I was by this production. I also was a tad resistant to the inexperienced-movie-star syndrome so essential to getting plays produced on Broadway. Michael Cera: no stage experience prior to an Australian production of this same play (also with Kieran Culkin). Tevi Gevinson: no professional stage experience at all!

What made me bite the bullet and go can be explained in one word: Steppenwolf. The director, Anna D. Shapiro, originated this production in Chicago this summer. What she and Steppenwolf have brought to the Big Apple is a very powerful piece of theater. The actors all absolutely inhabit their characters and make them exquisitely, painfully believable.

Maybe it’s because I have a daughter roughly the same age as these characters, but you feel for them all: the seemingly together Dennis (Mr. Culkin) is a nice counterpoint to the lost and flailing Warren (Mr. Cera). Without giving anything away, let’s just say neither of these two young men end the play where they started.

And neither does Jessica (Ms. Gevinson). Jessica is a bundle of contradictions and is torn between family and her own desires. Of course, in her case, at least she has a family that she cares about and that cares about her.

These are young people picking their way through life one tenuous step at a time, trying to find their footing on shifting ground. Whether it’s making off with a bundle of your father’s cash (Warren) or letting your parents support you while you support yourself selling drugs (Dennis), their worlds keep changing and all these characters discover – painfully – how elusive a foothold can be.

Kenneth Lonergan’s script is nearly perfect. Each scene is a gem, though possibly my favorite, if such a thing is possible, is the scene in which Warren meets Jessica; the scene and the performances are just beautiful. Some questions are never answered in the script, and that’s ok, because what matters is the journey of the characters. It’s funny. It’s powerful. And it’s riveting theater.

 

Do not miss it!

Ric Siler is an actor and playwright from West Virginia, now living in Nyack, whose most recent play is Working Man Blues, the third play in a trilogy about coal miners.