Since When is This Is Our Youth LOLZ Hilarous?

I’d be more then happy to tell you about Kenneth Lonergan's This is Our Youth because as plays go, it is kind of a big deal. Youth examines a 24-hour period in the life of Warren, a pothead/fuck-up having a minor existential crisis and trying to plan his next move after getting kicked out of his house. Oh, and he steals $15,000 from his father and holds up in the apartment of his drug-dealing “friend” (using that term as loosely as possible) Dennis, whom becomes intertwined in a night of berating Warren, getting high, berating Warren and fixing up Warren with a girl he is smitten with.

It’s dark. Funny and at times, but more-often melancholy. And if you do not find pieces of yourself in either of these two guys, you know of them all too well. When Dennis asks Warren what he plans on doing, Warren doesn’t just respond with an, “I don’t know.” His retort is coupled with multiple layers of angst in the “why does it matter?” and “who cares?” mold.

Dennis, with his abrasive tongue and high self-regard, is the type of person you want to take down a notch or eleven. When his world (literally) gets upended in the second act, prompting a lot of character rehabilitation, I always felt I should sympathize and respect him for finally thinking proactively about his life (his adrift lifestyle, his condescending nature, the consequences of his actions, his mortality as a drug-dealer/user). And as Warren spends this time trying to sort through his confusion and thinking about the series of life events and choices that has led him to his present predicament, I figured - no wait, I hoped -  a self-actualizing moment or a solution would come to him. The former happens...and it is the haunting epiphany that (1) no one has the answers or knows shit, ESPECIALLY not Dennis, but himself included (2) there is no panacea-like solution, only more questions (3) complacency and confusion in life is a frequent, if not daily, euphoria, but that’s life and what could possibly be the alternative?

I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that, for the moldable young minds that read/watch or recite monologues from this text, this. is. powerful. In our culture dating back the last four decades, where more youths have a skeptical/cynical pre-disposition towards adults, this is how theatre can, in a subtle, smart and tacit manner, inform and empower an individual after the curtain drops.

Why such an emphatic introduction? Because I feel compelled to tell you that the Broadway outing of This is Our Youth, playing at the Cort Theatre, has none of that. Oh, it’s there - as in, no updates or substantial re-writes of the script - but the pain of the characters and any moment of pathos is virtually non-existent. The entire experience wasn’t unenjoyable - partly because it is a fine production in its own right - but as reinterpretations go, I’ll stick to the This is Our Youth of yore. Because that is a challenging, heart-breaking piece of work with a few laughs, all of which you wouldn’t know from this laugh-a-minute, ABC comedy presented.

Anna D. Shapiro mined the material for comedy in more places then I would of, but to her credit, some of the laughter that erupted from the audience was justified. That’s also in part due to Kieran Culkin and Michael Cera’s broader performances as Dennis and Warren respectively. Culkin, on fire for most of the play, tried his damnedest though to bring depth to Dennis and his second-act turn-around, but through no fault of his own, it didn’t amount to much. Same could be said for the pleasant surprise of Cera, whom I was more concerned with given his tendency to “Michael Cera” his movie/television roles. His attempts to add complexity - and land the emotional punches Warren should elicit - was a noble effort. Still, I liked both of them more that I disliked them and can chalk up the differences to me not jiving with the overall lighter vision of the production.

However, Tavi Gevinson needed to get the Vaudevillian hook. Someone with more knowledge then I do, is that a vocal affectation or does she naturally sound like that? Like a rougher, Martha Stewart? Either way, it doesn’t speak well of her or the production. Coupled with being a charisma black hole, her and Warren’s heated-debates and chemistry were not keeping my attention. I wanted Culkin’s Dennis to return to the stage and verbally joust with Cera’s Warren some more…at least that was entertaining. Expendable, but entertaining.

Usually when a show causes the audience to lose their shit in hysterics, that means the show has accomplished something tangible. And hey, I can’t put down any show wanted to provide a good time for the audience, even if that line of thinking is unambitious. But This is Our Youth could have been so much more and the comedic bits were over-embellished at the expense of the gritty, confusion that should be driving the show. I’m glad Youth is on Broadway and I can be talked into seeing it again, but I still have a better production in mind that would result in me crying my eyes out instead of bowling over in laughter.

Photo Credit: Brigitte Lacombe

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