Friday, October 10, 2014

Review - This Is Our Youth


Last night, a very handsome chum was gifted some comps for Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth and I'm a very lucky girl that he asked me to join him.  I probably wouldn't have seen the show otherwise, plus it's always nice to spend time with a handsome chum.  The cocktails we had pre-show didn't hurt...

Originally produced Off-Broadway in 1996, This Is Our Youth is now making its Broadway debut.  I'm not sure why I didn't catch the original production since I was back in NY in '96, but I wish I had.  It was the production that really launched Mark Ruffalo's career and I'm a huge Mark Ruffalo fan.  I did see Lonergan's two subsequent plays, The Waverly Gallery and Lobby Hero, and greatly enjoyed them both.  I think Lonergan has a lot to say about smart people who talk a lot yet do really dumb things.  His dialogue sounds very natural and bright and often very funny, coming from character and not situation.

Not a whole lot happens in This Is Our Youth, plot-wise, but I think a lot happens inside the characters.  Normally I have a problem with plays about people of privilege who whine about...anything.  But for some reason, I found myself rather moved by the young people in this play.  I felt their hopelessness and their uncertainty, and was very sad at the emptiness they seemed to be headed towards.  On the way home on the subway, I was very subdued and unhappy, thinking about these wasted lives.

The play takes place in 1982, so in actuality, I was the same age that year as the kids depicted onstage, though their lives had little or no resemblance to mine, though the sweet seduction scene between two of the characters sparked some dim memories in me of wanting something or someone, but still pulling away out of confusion or naivete.  But I grew up in Ohio of decidedly middle class means, and the kids of the play are New Yorkers of privilege.  So this wasn't like watching a documentary for me, rather like science fiction, ha ha (which is how I got through watching Sex and the City - once I decided it was science fiction like Star Trek, I could enjoy it.  Thinking about it as a story somehow about my life as a single woman in NY just ticked me off.  But I digress).

photo credit: Brigitte Lacombe
The play begins with Warren, played by Arrested Development's Michael Cera, arriving at his friend's apartment (his friend, Dennis, is played by Kieran Culkin) after being kicked out of his own by his father.  In retaliation, Warren has stolen $15,000 from his father's briefcase.  What Warren and Dennis decide to do with the money is what drives the story.  There's a lot of humor, but also some very truthful moments that perfectly depict what it's like to be a rudderless adolescent/young adult.

photo credit: Brigitte Lacombe
The show is expertly cast.  Each of the actors come in with a persona and the play uses their persona to great effect and expands on it as well.  Cera's innocent, puppy dog, nerdy slacker affect works perfectly here.  He's like a baby giraffe, all gangly limbs and awkward poses.  His vocal mannerisms at first annoyed me, but then, as the play progressed, they fell away and his story arc was very apparent.  He has an innate sweetness that makes you root for him, even when he's doing mindblowingly stupid things.  He's also quite good at the physical comedy.  Culkin is fast-talking and brash, used to being the smartest guy in the room, trying to build himself up as the alpha male, but you also see the frightened little boy underneath.  The third member of the cast, Tavi Gevinson, isn't really an actress, but a blogger and teen social media wunderkind, but she fits in very well with the other actors.  She seems to be Jessica personified and holds her own on stage.  If her posture and lack of vocal control marks her as a novice, oh well.  I bought her.  

I found the direction to be solid.  There were plenty of bits of action that I figured would be coming and yet they still surprised me.  I think you could tell she guided the actors very smartly, letting them be themselves, yet be the characters at the same time.  I did think the first act lagged, and the second act monologues that are basically "this is what the play is about" weren't terrifically handled, but these are quibbles, at least to me.  The set was impressive (we were actually confused for a very very brief moment and thought the space was actually open to the real city behind the theater), and I greatly enjoyed the original music by Rostam Batmanglij, who I had never heard of before.  I see he is with a band, so I may check them out, too.

I give a thumbs up to This Is Our Youth.  To be honest, I went into the theater expecting to not like the production.  I figured I would like the writing, but seeing stories of privileged youth would turn me off.  I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong.  I was surprised that I was touched, I was surprised at how much melancholy was in the show.  I don't think it's a great play, necessarily, but I do think it's a good one, of a time and place.  Without being perfectly cast, it could be a deadly night out, but with the right cast, as this one has, it's a pleasantly diverting and interesting night out.  Well done, all.  Plus, hello, I was sitting with a handsome chum.  Happiness all around.

**Tooth update:  No one was clamoring for a tooth update, but I thought I'd provide one nonetheless, goshdarnit.  After the great tooth fiasco, I had gone back a couple of times to get fitted for a new bridge to replace that extracted tooth.  A little more backstory - I told the dentist REPEATEDLY that I would be unable to pay anything until after October 1, when my insurance kicked back in (at my office, we go by fiscal year instead of calendar year).  He assured me that wouldn't ever be a problem.  When I went for the final appointment to get the final bridge, the receptionist told me I couldn't get the final bridge until I paid the bill.  In full.  This was on September 25, which is clearly BEFORE October 1.  I said, excuse me, I do not have that kind of money.  I told you that.  So, essentially, they held my tooth/bridge hostage.  I put a couple of hundred dollars down and told her I'd call her when my insurance kicked back in.  Of course, this year, we got a new insurance credit card, so I had to wait until that came in, which was after October 1.  They kept calling me and I kept saying I would pay as soon as I could.  Finally, I called Tuesday to pay about 2/3 of the balance and they said come in today.  I went in today, paid 2/3 of the balance, then waited around for a half hour to be seen.  I got the final bridge, thankfully, though he seemed quite ungentle in pulling out the temp and putting in the bridge.  He also didn't numb me.  I'm thinking I'm not going back there, EVER, once I pay off the rest of the bill, which they grudgingly said I could pay off monthly.   I mean, seriously, I know they want paid, everyone does.  But I had been very upfront with him, once he told me the tooth had to come out and I needed a bridge, about my financial situation.  And he assured me it was fine.  Plus, they used up all my dental insurance, so it's not like they hadn't seen any payment at all.  It was just the attitude.  I just hope nothing happens between now and final repayment - he mentioned other things he thought I should come in to have done and I said, yeah, let's wait and see...

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