Theatre Mirror Reviews - "This Is Our Youth"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark

"This Is Our Youth"

Written by Kenneth Lonergan
Directed by Courtney Anne O'Connor

Costume Design by Elena Ivanova
Scenic Design by Stefan Barnas
Sound Design by Josh Prytor
Lighting Design by Karen Perlow
Properties Coordinator Brigid Connelly
Production Stage Manager Dani Snyder

Dennis Ziegler........................................Patrick Zeller
Warren Straub........................................Graham Sack
Jessica Goldman............................Amanda Mantovani

Dennis, who has been dealing dope for five years, boasts that he has been providing Golden Moments of Youth that his young friend Warren will look back fondly upon as they slowly turn into carbon copies of their rich, fucked-up parents. The scene is New York, the year 1982, Ronald Reagan is declaring ketchup a vegetable, Jessica has legs that go on forever and she just might break young Warren's fast --- especially when he spends a thou or two on a night at The Plaza out of the $15,000 he liberated from his old man's illicit bribe-stash. [Am I going a little fast for you?] After you see this stunning show, you may go home contrasting and comparing it with "Catcher in The Rye" and "American Buffalo" and "Shopping And Fucking" but I guarantee you will think of nothing whatever except these three intensely realized characters once Kenneth Lonergan's play grabs you by the throat and flings you into the center of their lives. This is An Experience.

Everything in these young people's lives is ambivalent. Patrick Zeller's Dennis maintains his cool as mentor and role-model by insulting people every chance he gets. Graham Sack's Warren packs a suitcase when leaving home with vintage toys and records because he knows their cash value to collectors, but hesitates to sell these beloved fragments of his youth. And a vaguely hoped-for intimacy peeks out between an impulse for love and a need to boast of getting laid at last. Everything seems like the pot or the blow that represents a street-value profit, even though you keep back half an ounce for personal use.

That prickly ambivalence is most obvious in Amanda Mantovani's Jessica, who admits to being screwed over and hurt before, but who can't stop kissing once she starts. She demands a present that will symbolize sincerity, but can't deal with its immense value when it's given.

This show is the perfect confluence of script, cast and director that looks, every step of the way, like raw, honest reality. Director Courtney Anne O'Connor has encouraged her cast to interrupt one another, to shout one another down, and to fight for their individual integrity, no holds barred, despite feeling the heat and the pain of the moment. And they rise to that challenge, so that even their silences have weight and meaning. They are so intent on what they squabble over that what the fight is over becomes less important than the simple fact of the fight itself. Each of these young actors is solidly anchored into character and ready for anything.

At one point Jessica remarks that the fact that she can, or sometimes can no longer remember times and things that used to be important to her means not that she has grown beyond them, but that they, perhaps like important things now, never have any meaning at all. Dennis, confronting a fellow dealer's overdose on goof-balls at only twenty-three is freaked by the fact that everyone, himself included, will die. And so the trio moves on, in a lovingly slovenly slice-of-life set by Stefan Barnas, doing what they do, being what they are, because "This Is Our Youth".


"This Is Our Youth" (till 30 April)
Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(617) 426-2787

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide