Theater archives

Two Critics (One Veteran, One Youth) Assess This Is Our Youth

by and

It doesn’t take long for director Anna Shapiro’s luminous revival of This Is Our Youth to transport you back to a certain moment of suspension in your life — between thinking you’re an adult and becoming one, between lusting for the world and fearing it will devour you on your first foray. A huge part of the show’s evocative power comes from
Michael Cera’s touching and wonderfully calibrated performance as Warren, a 19-year-old who has stolen money from his dad and doesn’t know what to do next, except to get stoned with his bullying friend Dennis (Kieran Culkin). We can’t take our eyes off Cera, a wiry wonder who stays coiled and remains completely inert at the same time. His long arms and legs dangle from his core like unwanted appendages; his voice stretches into a measured, sometimes pleading, high pitch. Cera stresses the intelligence and grace guiding Warren, our pothead protagonist, through this moment of tender indecision, and the choice pays off throughout, as we gradually realize he’s capable of wisdom and integrity.

Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 coming-of-age-drama has scenes of real beauty — particularly Warren’s extended scene of courtship with the fashion student Jessica (Tavi Gevinson), when the teenagers’ terror of intimacy and desperation to connect play out with equal, awkward ferocity. The second half, however, inflicts some heavy-handed dramatic devices; some of the earlier delicacy collapses under the weight of standard-issue I-hate-my-parents confessions. Todd Rosenthal’s design — an Upper West Side apartment block bearing down upon Dennis’s studio — situates the play perfectly in 1980s Morning in America. These New York kids perch atop the fault line of adolescence, and as they teeter we watch and remember with pits in our stomachs. Tom Sellar

One score or so years ago, Kenneth Lonergan brought forth, upon this continent, a new play, conceived in drugs, and dedicated to the proposition that all kid-adult hybrids are created equal…

This Is Our Youth is about the time in your life when people expect you to act like an adult but you aren’t ready to be one yet, which I write about as if I’ve
experienced it because I basically have, vicariously. (My favorite TV show is New Girl, a sitcom about some thirtysomethings who live in a loft in L.A. You’re supposed to have your life figured out by then, but instead you write novels about zombies and throw tin-themed parties
to celebrate 10 years of living with your college roommate.)

Watching the play is like being a fly on the wall of a tiny apartment for two days in 1982. Michael Cera is Warren, an awkward adolescent, who barges into his friend/mentor/dealer Dennis’s NYC apartment — which Dennis’s parents pay for — carrying a sack of cash he stole from his dad, a bag of incredibly powerful weed, and a suitcase filled with collectible toys, records, and a toaster. Dennis (Kieran Culkin) takes the weed and $200 Warren owes him. They buy a lot of coke, planning to do some of it and sell the rest so Warren can return the money to his dad, make a profit, and, maybe, finally get a girl: Jessica (Tavi Gevinson), a 19-year-old fashion student who lives with her mom and likes to argue.

Overheard Old Lady: “You didn’t tell me this Michael boy was cute!” LOL! Old
people! Ha-ha! Boys!

The play ends without warning, which I don’t appreciate because I like neat, happy endings. But LIFE ISN’T A MOVIE OR WHATEVER. Approximately 55
times a day, I sigh loudly and roll my eyes
because I remember that Tavi and I aren’t actually friends. It’s very frustrating. Annabel Finkel