1982 was over 30 years ago, but the struggles and attitudes of teens and twenty-somethings haven’t changed that much, as seen in “This is Our Youth,” by Kenneth Lonergan. At times hysterical, at time philosophical, and always entertaining.
“This is Our Youth” tells the story of Warren Smith (Michael Cera) showing up at his friend Dennis’ (Kieran Culkin) Upper West Side apartment with a bag of money that he stole from his rich father after getting kicked out of his own house. What follows is a night of crazy antics, including Warren trying to romance Jessica (Tavi Gevinson). The male characters are both that odd combination of if you knew them in real life, you would probably hate them, but onstage they are likeable and interesting characters. Michael Cera is still solidly in his type of semi-dorky man-childs, but it is a type that he does extremely well. Warren seems very natural and realistic though, and not just a quirky stereotype. Kieran Culkin is riveting as Dennis, with a sharp intellect and a solid control on his physicality. He moves through various emotions with ease and can switch on a dime for great comedic effect. His performance is very reminiscent of Alan Cumming in the best way possible. Cera and Culkin’s relationship has easy banter and chemistry, which is probably honed by them working together before on the cult classic Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Tavi Gevinson’s work is refreshingly real and honest, portraying the confusing thoughts and emotions of a young adult just trying to figure out what she wants in life.
Anna D. Shapiro superbly directed the show. The exact setting wasn’t apparent visually or tonally until one of the characters mentioned that Ronald Reagan was president. Nothing really specifically dates the show visually, besides the fact that Dennis’ apartment has a record player and a phone with a cord. But this is so understated and natural that the characters could have existed in today’s modern world or any other time period between the two. The themes of the show are never pounded into the audience’s head, but instead come out naturally through the story.
In reference to other production elements, the scenic design by Todd Rosenthal was astounding. I thought for half a second walking into the theater that they had knocked down the back wall and we were looking out onto a real New York apartment building. The lighting design by Brian MacDevitt and sound design by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen were subtle enhancements of the mood of the peace. Though specific kudos go out to the beautiful lighting sequence that transitioned Act One to Act Two. Costume design by Ann Roth was a bit generic, adding the universality of the time, though one outfit of Jessica’s character seemed a bit too modern for the era, but that could be explained away because the character studied fashion.
Overall “This is Our Youth” is a hilarious and meaningful production about what it means to be young and have everything, and yet not know what to do with your life. It shouldn’t be missed while playing at the Cort Theatre.
Review By: Chrissy Cody
Photos By: Sara Krulwich