This Is Our YouthPosted: September 25, 2014
Long time no chat, Broadway fans! Sorry I disappeared there for a while. I was lucky enough to be in Hawaii a couple of weeks ago (the Big Island – check out the music video!), and I’m only now beginning to resurface and return to the reality of living on this island. So let’s catch up on some theatre, shall we? I saw This Is Our Youth back in August during its second week of previews (broke that damn rule again) and was happy to see that it opened to great reviews while I was busy “sun tanning.” And surprise, surprise – I’m on board with the critics for this one. You may have already heard the buzz: the Kenneth Lonergan revival directed by Anna D. Shapiro (Of Mice and Men, August: Osage County) transferred from Steppenwolf starring Kieran Culkin, Michael Cera, and Tavi Gevinson.
Like the many theatre students before me, This Is Our Youth was required reading in college. I think I bought it from the campus bookstore my sophomore year for Acting I. What I’m sad to admit is I didn’t remember a lick of it. Perhaps if I’d had to do a scene in class, there’d be more pieces of it in my memory. But when I think of that play, all that tends to come to mind is three angsty teens in an apartment…which you could argue is exactly what the play is about. There isn’t much of a plot in the typical sense; it’s definitely more character-driven. I bought tickets for this production well in advance, eager to see one of the first plays of the season, but honestly, I wasn’t that excited for this play in particular. There was no reason for this really. It had plenty going for it, but nonetheless, I went in without any expectations. I’m happy to say that I liked it quite a bit.
The play takes place at Dennis’s apartment in Manhattan. His friend Warren stops by late one night, having just been kicked out of the house by his abusive father, with a bag of stolen money in tow (we come to find out rather quickly that it’s his father’s money). They start to scheme how they can go about taking advantage of the stolen money but also somehow return the full sum the next day (as you might expect, this involves many an illegal activity). The night carries on as these two teens navigate the theft, the piling up dilemmas, and their relationship with one another. It gets even more complicated when Jessica, the outspoken girl Warren has been crushing on for a while, shows up.
I think what surprised me most was Michael Cera’s work. I was very impressed by him. I don’t mean to imply that I expected him to be bad, but Cera, as we all know, has been pigeonholed in film and TV as the awkward never-knows-what-to-say kid, and as a result, we’ve come to expect a certain type of character from him. While Warren is arguably still in that vein, it was nice to see Cera’s additional colors and deeper vulnerability. He is very present in the role. I think this style of theatre and dialogue is a good fit for him – very natural and organic. Cera’s moments alone on stage are great, for example, because nothing actually happens. He’s just there, in a room that he knows he doesn’t belong in, not sure how to be in his own body or the space around him, and Cera is excellent at emanating that feeling without having to work for it. Kieran Culkin is also fantastic. You can see all of Dennis’s layers at work, and his chemistry with Cera is so easy. They’re always on the same page and in tune with each other.
I wish I could say I liked the girl. Gevinson is 18, and from what I’ve been told, a fashion savant blogger turned actor. I think I’ve said this before, but I admit that I’m often more critical of female actresses because I’m looking at the role more closely – not necessarily for myself but because I have friends that I know could knock it out of the park. Her performance felt “put on” to me. The naturalness that was so effortlessly coming out of the boys was not there with her. I wanted the role to be more in her skin. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was forced, but it wasn’t comfortable. At least for me; the critics loved her.
Regardless, I’m glad I went to see it. Shapiro’s directing is clean and specific. This play so convincingly reminds us of that difficult, awkward time in our late teens when we were figuring out our own opinions, learning who our real friends are, and coming into our own. If we ever truly do.
This Is Our Youth
Written by Kenneth Lonergan, Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Cort Theatre, Closing January 4, 2015
Photo Credit: Brigitte Lacombe
Pictured: Kieran Culkin and Michael Cera