Less Easy Pieces

In the end, this delayed adolescent mania comes to nothing: Warren finally sees both Dennis's vulnerability and the previously unconsidered notion that his father might also be a vulnerable, troubled human being. He goes home, having loused up everything but ready to make a fresh start. Dennis, having confessed his own hopeless terror, might or might not be ready to do something about it. Here, again, there's nothing new; if you took out the vast amounts of profanity and drug use, you'd be barely two steps from Father Knows Best.

But the familiar is, again, made lively, here by the agreeably mordant mix of cynicism and compassion Lonergan shows his screwed-up characters, and by the astuteness of his ear; he's particularly good at notating the sprung rhythms of the stoned. And, like Stephenson, he gets terrific directorial help from Mark Brokaw, freewheeling and inventive with movement. Ruffalo and Missy Yager, as the jittery girl he adores, are close to perfect. Mark Rosenthal is resourceful and varied in his handling of Dennis's lengthy tirades; it's his energy and focus that keep the evening in motion.

Ruffalo and Rosenthal in This Is Our Youth: Some things go worse with coke.
Susan Cook
Ruffalo and Rosenthal in This Is Our Youth: Some things go worse with coke.

Details

The Memory of Water
By Shelagh Stephenson
Manhattan Theatre Club
131 West 55th Street
581-1212

This Is Our Youth
By Kenneth Lonergan
Second Stage
2162 Broadway, at 75th Street
787-3392

The Scarlet Pimpernel
By Nan Knighton,
music by Frank Wildhorn
Minskoff Theatre
Broadway and 44th Street
307-4100

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If only he, or somebody, could do as much for The Scarlet Pimpernel, which has been rewritten, restaged, and recast, with results that make me want to call a rehearsal, like George S. Kaufman, "to take out the improvements." The story's now more clearly told, but with much less charm; we never get to know the people at all, except for Douglas Sills's Sir Percy, the fop who's really a superhero. The expansive, grinning grandeur of both Sills's foolery and his swashbuckling has mercifully been left unharmed. But everything around him has been stifled. Instead of Christine Andreas, elegant and teasingly seductive, we get Rachel York, yowling like a 14th-rate Piaf imitator. Terrence Mann's Chauvelin was a grudging carbon copy of his Javert; Rex Smith's is more like a trained seal, barking lines at York, then facing front to bark his songs at us. The score being by Frank Wildhorn, there was no way to improve it except by shooting him and starting over with an actual composer, but they might have made it sound a little more like live music. Karl Richardson's tinny sound design, easily the worst on Broadway, suggests a 78 rpm record played over a high-school p.a. system. If I were Baroness Orczy, who wrote the enchanting novel on which this ugliness is based, I'd try to get my name taken off the program.

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