This Is Our Youth
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This Is Our Youth: In brief
Kenneth Lonergan's 1996 breakout play about a couple of late adolescents mixed up in stolen money and cocaine gets a belated Broadway debut, courtesy of Steppenwolf Theatre Company. The formidable Anna D. Shapiro directs Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and Tavi Gevinson in the slacker drama.
This Is Our Youth: Theater review by David Cote
Funny how yesterday’s manboy becomes today’s sad old guy. But that’s always been Michael Cera’s trick, hasn’t it? Ever since he grew a cult fan base as frozen-in-the-headlights teen George Michael Bluth on Arrested Development, then starred in a series of instant-classic indie comedies (Juno, Superbad), Cera has managed to appear both fetally unguarded and crushed by the weight of the world (a millennial Charlie Brown). That broken-naïf vibe makes him perfect for Warren Straub in Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth, in which Cera plays a jumpy and immature 19-year-old who already seems soured by the seedy banalities of 1982 New York.
Warren’s so-called friend Dennis (Culkin) is two years ahead of him in that post–Me Decade, early-Reagan realm, which has already turned him into a vicious, manipulative prick. Bullying Dennis is a low-level pot dealer whose shabby Upper West Side apartment is paid for by parents who’d rather foot his rent than have him around. One night, Warren drops by, lugging a suitcase full of collectible toys and a knapsack stuffed with $15,000 he stole from his lingerie-dealer dad. And thus a profane, heartbreaking coming-of-age plot is set in motion—Catcher in the Rye for stoners and slackers.
The word plot should be used loosely. As always with Lonergan, the murky-jerky inner worlds of his articulate, life-stalled characters drive the action. There’s the stolen cash, and a bag of coke shows up, but the real twist comes when Warren stands up for himself. Part of Warren’s incentive to get real comes from Jessica (Gevinson), an idealistic but insecure fashion student he fancies. Their courtship scene is both tenderly rendered and comically mannered, as the two try on sophisticated adult attitudes for size.
Anna D. Shapiro’s clear-eyed and tight staging brings out earnest, honest performances from the young trio. Cera’s facial deadpan and vocal drone have the curious effect of deepening, not lessening, our sympathy for Warren. Culkin gets to shine in the flashier role, and Gevinson toggles amusingly between prim ingenue and panicked urbanite. They’re nice kids; I think they’ve got a bright future ahead of them.—Theater review by David Cote
THE BOTTOM LINE A starry cast blazes in this dark, wistful winner.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote