By Kenneth Lonergan; Directed by Gerrit Thurston
Produced by Battalion Theatre
Off Off Broadway, Play Revival
Runs through 3.19.16
Abingdon Theatre's Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, 312 West 36th Street
by Zachary Conner on 3.13.16
Hannah Kloepfer, Dan Gonon, and Gerrit Thurston in This Is Our Youth. Photo by Nessie Nankivell.
BOTTOM LINE: Three privileged youths living in Reagan era NYC struggle with transitioning out of adolescence in this small ensemble comedy elevated by strong performances.
Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Three key ingredients in Kenneth Lonergan’s wickedly funny portrayal of three insufferable youths living in Reagan era New York City. Well, more like sex, drugs, and childhood collectibles. Lonergan introduces us to three prime examples of failures to launch: Dennis Ziegler, an overly self-confident drug-dealing mess, Warren Straub – a clueless man-child trying his best to stay one step out of the reach of an abusive father, and Jessica Goldman – a beautiful fashion student who so desperately wants to be loved, yet makes herself as unrelatable as humanly possible. Sprinkle in a common link of the three coming from privileged backgrounds and you have the perfect recipe of first world, white people problems.
This Is Our Youth opens with Dennis (Gerrit Thurston) aimlessly surfing the web in an apartment paid for by his uber-wealthy artist father. Soon after, buddy Warren (Dan Gonon) crashes the scene informing Dennis that he has stolen fifteen thousand dollars from his lingerie tycoon dad, and plans to use the newly acquired funds to kick-start a new life. Dennis experiences a rare moment of clarity and devises a way for the two to make money off of buying, and then selling drugs purchased with the stolen cash, while managing to repay a debt Warren owes Dennis – all while returning the stolen cash in full to Warren’s father before he notices the money is gone. As to be expected from two bumbling half-baked partners in crime, a series of unforeseen complications present themselves, and the audience joins the two in an incredibly humorous string of wins and epic failures.
To add an extra level of obstacle, the two are joined by Jessica (Hannah Kloepfer), the object of Warren’s affections and, more importantly, the chief distraction in Warren’s battle between thinking with his brain over another somewhat more debaucherous source of persuasion. Jessica eventually gives into Warren’s charm and the two share an evening together in a suite at the Plaza. The scene in which Warren finally breaks his dry-spell is a highlight in the production. Switching from a direct, firmly grounded narrative in reality, Warren and Jessica perform a sort of movement piece accompanied beautifully by Thurston on the guitar with a voice that is surprisingly warm and inviting. It’s very indie-comedy/Michael Cera feeling – playing like a deleted scene from Juno. Appropriately enough, the latest Broadway revival of This Is Our Youth starred Cera.
The next day it’s soon apparent that the honeymoon is over. Warren and Dennis’s plans to turn a profit have been foiled, and Jessica returns with a confusing pair of cold feet. The play concludes with Warren’s father discovering his stolen cash before he and Dennis can reverse their heist, and Warren and Jessica reach an understanding.
What saves this piece from being an evening of one eye-rolling, tar pit of a human being interacting with another is a combination of both clever writing by Lonergan, coupled with outstanding performances by Thurston, Gonon, and Kloepfer. Thurston and Gonon are incredibly convincing as two mental late-bloomers desperately trying to get their shit together. Their bromance is palpable and the direction Thurston has given them maintains a constant state of frenetic humor. There’s a moment in which Warren and Dennis have a matrix-esque imaginary shootout that is the perfect example of two boys just being boys. The relationship between Warren and Jessica is also a delight to witness. Gonon is painfully awkward, and Kloepfer is the paradigm of confusion that derives from dating. Together their energy is playful, believable, and similar to their shared preferred recreational activity, incredibly addictive. As a piece that presents only three characters onstage, a strong ensemble is formed – leaving no weak link to be found.
This production chooses to set the play in the present day (all of the characters use iPhones, Dennis's MacBook appears throughout the show, and there is a painting of Obama on the ground). Unfortunately, the production doesn't take this further, making the piece relevant to today, or to our upcoming election. Instead, some of Lonergan’s purpose behind setting the play, specific to Reagan’s New York City, are washed over and lose their meaning/importance in the script.
Historical issues aside, This Is Our Youth is a strong performance-driven piece that can be appreciated with less than critical attention to detail. Battalion Theatre’s mission of recognizing and reveling in the wealth of talent to be found in emerging artists is alive and well at the Abingdon Theatre.
(This Is Our Youth plays at Abingdon Theatre’s Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, through March 19, 2016. Performances are Thu. 3/10 thru Sat 3/12 and Thu. 3/17 thru Sat 3/19 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $20 general admission and $10 for seniors/students. Go to web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/956407 for tickets or call 866-811-4111. For more information visit battaliontheatre.com.)
This Is Our Youth is written by Kenneth Longergan. It is directed by Gerrit Thurston. Assistant Director is Kullan Edberg. Lighting Design is by James McKinney.
The cast is Don Gonon, Hannah Kloepfer, and Gerrit Thurston.