Sunday, September 14, 2014

This Is Our Youth at the Cort Theatre

The petty problems of disaffected youth are not a new subject matter for theater. One of the better depictions is Kenneth Lonergan's 1996 play This Is Our Youth now receiving its Broadway debut by way of  Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company.  The problems of rich post adolescents aimlessly trying to handle a potentially dangerous crisis is rather funny, but ultimately sad. For these characters are drifting primarily because they come from wealth and privilege.

Set in 1982 in the upper west side apartment of Dennis (Kieran Culkin), Dennis is roused from a late night tv binge by the arrival of his neurotic friend, Warren (Michael Cera) who has stolen $15,000 from his businessman father and run away with the cash and a suitcase of collectibles. Dennis, who makes his living as a drug dealer, only half heartedly advises Warren to either leave the country or return the money before it's discovered missing. Into this mix is added Jessica (Tavi Gevinson) Warren's current girl of his dreams.

Mr. Lonergan's script is witty and filled with dialogue that actually sounds like it should be spoken by young adults in their late teens and early twenties as opposed to many scripts where the dialogue sounds like an older generation thinks the younger should sound. The play is ultimately a character study, there is little resolution to the central crisis. This leads to a non-ending that perfectly fits these poor little rich slackers. The value in the script is in the revelations about the character's backgrounds, whether it is Warren's family tragedy involving his older sister or Dennis dealing with an unexpected death. Jessica is the least interesting character, although Ms. Gevinson manages to capture the part wary, part up for adventure persona of Jessica who shows her immaturity(as do all three characters) in act two's harsher light of day.

Director Anna D. Shapiro keeps the pacing interesting, and the tone as funny and slight as the characters. Todd Rosenthal's set is clearly early 1980's from the polaroids and posters pasted on the walls to the messenger bike hanging above the kitchen.

Michael Cera is perfectly at home in his portrayal of the neurotic Warren. Mr. Cera has made his career out of playing socially awkward characters. For his Broadway debut he is in his comfort zone. One hopes that he considers taking a role outside this zone for his next effort.

The real standout performance is given by Kieran Culkin. He has portrayed Warren in a previous production in the West End. His bemused Dennis who only half-heartedly really tries to deal with the potentially dangerous intrusion by Warren into his cosy existence is perfect. Mr. Culkin is that cool, bullying friend that tolerates the awkward one, yet doesn't want to actually get too involved. Mr. Culkin, of the three performers, truly is that privileged slacker incarnate.

This Is Our Youth is being performed at the Cort Theatre on Broadway through January 4, 2015. For tickets and other performance information please visit