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Sex with Strangers
Photograph: Joan MarcusSex with Strangers

Trendwatch: Evil millennials are taking over musicals and plays on Broadway and Off!

By David Cote

Spending my nights at the theater, I’m cut off from the yoots more than most, but I’ve noticed something recently: plot devices—sorry, characters—that could be lumped together as Evil Millennials. These are twentyish or teenage boys and girls who are having super-unsafe sex while chain-tweeting, preposterously self-confident about their historical ignorance while feeding the consumerist-digital machine and scheming to get older rivals fired in disgrace. Okay, maybe you’re in your forties and I just described an average weekend, but my point stands: Evil Millennials (EMs) are the go-to ciphers/villains of new plays.

The latest example is Ethan (Billy Magnussen, above) in Laura Eason’s Sex with Strangers. Ethan is a Tucker Max–type 28-year-old fameball who shacks up with 39-year-old, frustrated novelist Olivia (Anna Gunn). He seduces her, bullies her into e-publishing, and nearly wrecks a career comeback, all the while making us ask, Who is the real Ethan: Manic Pixie Dream Guy or tweet-addled sex maniac?

You would expect such terrifying creatures to spring from the laptops of paranoid Gen X or Baby Boomer scribes, but many of these plays are by young writers themselves—which goes to show that in the theater, no one ever lost money by selling out their generation. Movies and pop music are understandably less eager to broad-brush Gen Y; that would seem both uncool and bad business. (Lena Dunham is able to play both sides of the game, which may partly explain the success of Girls.)

But the theater loves dangerous, morally bankrupt youth: There’s the bastard Edmund in King Lear; Frank Wedekind shocked Germans with Spring Awakening’s randy, self-destructive jungen (later turned into an angsty millennial tuner); Shaw delighted in subversive kids instructing their elders; the ’60s brought plenty of anti-establishment hippies, angry young blacks and sexually liberated gals. But what do today’s millennials stand for? Universal wifi? Ironic facial hair? Amazon Prime? Here’s a breakdown of types of EM, so you can spot them next time you take your grandmother to a play.

Social-media addicts
The EM cannot engage in normal, civilized dialogue without periodically zoning out, responding to a tweet or checking Facebook on a phone. This exasperates their teachers and parents to no end. LOL. Whatevs.

Amoral sexual athletes
Think those taut, scantily clad, twerkin’ EMs are hung up on old-school stuff like sexual orientation (Wild Animals You Should Know), porn or emotional sensitivity? Hells-to-the-no! They are going at it (Intimacy), even if the hookups are empty and kinda, um, violent (Really Really). If their bodies are commodified and monetized, that’s cool, bra. YOLO, amirite?!

Reflexive underminers
Never turn your back on an EM—they will totes cut a bitch. Whether they resent their parents (The Whale) or authority figures in general, the EM’s cheerfully bland exterior hides a seething, inchoate mass of confusion and rage. Sometimes they are crypto-terrorists (Luce). Or crypto-fanatics (Bad Jews). Or crypto-psychos (Hand to God). Or they just want your job.

Cheerfully ahistorical
George Washington? You mean the bridge? The Beatles? I’ll Google later. Neil Armstrong? Isn’t he like, the guy on a bike who took drugs? What? Why would anyone go to the moon? There’s, like, not even a Chipotle there. OMG: major fail. (Note: The opposite of this is Asperger EM, such as in The Flick—not exactly evil, but irritating.)

Preposterously self-confident
Partly the fault of parents who dote on their spawn to a ridiculous degree, the EM believes he or she to be extraordinarily talented, smart and owed everything he or she wants without having to work for it. As Matilda shows, modesty and hard work are not immediately rewarded.

What are some plays or musicals you’ve noticed lately that hinge on the manipulations and machinations of an EM? Let us know!


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