This Is Our Youth
The title of Kenneth Lonergan's slice of slacker life rings with the sort of gloomy resignation adults favor in discussing the "kids today." This is our youth, it announces with mock paternal gravitas; look what we have begotten. In every other way, though, Lonergan's intemperate twentysomethings, delivered fresh from New York by Hidden Theatre, have been disowned by the larger world. Their parents, successful and wealthy members of New York's elite, take no interest in them beyond paying their rent. They have no jobs, and no reason to get jobs. They have every advantage in the world, except perspective. They are, in short, the afterbirth of affluence. And, as is true for the scions of every lost generation, their wounds are largely self-inflicted.
Before the play proper, director Annelise Christ's production introduces the evening's subject with a slide show--a blurry montage of family photos and Time magazine covers. Toxic waste, hostage dramas, mounds of cocaine, and the prodigiously jowled face of Ronald Reagan flash before our eyes. This is 1982, height of the go-go coke blitz fondly recalled as a decade of decadence--the new Jazz Age that never was.
Perhaps someday the décor of the Manhattan loft where This Is Our Youth takes place will be marketed by IKEA as "Less Than Zero chic." For now, however, this grunge grotto, scattered with old records and drug paraphernalia, looks as squalid and chaotic as the lives of its denizens. Chief among said inhabitants is Dennis (Adam Whisner), a small-time drug dealer with big-time entrepreneurial aspirations. He is the sort who, when he pulls out of his postadolescent tailspin, will make a swell stockbroker. He'll buy a cell phone, feng shui his dump of an apartment, and become one of the self-involved jerks we like to call productive members of society.
Dennis's partner-in-grime, Warren (Bard Goodrich), is both a less reprehensible and more pathetic model of wayward youth. When he first appears, Warren has filched $15,000 from his father, a lingerie Mafioso of some sort. Young Warren also carries a suitcase full of valuable antique toys--an obvious but nonetheless poignant symbol of emotional baggage. Seeking asylum with Dennis after yet another blowup with his old man, Warren comes bouncing into the rat's nest like a porcupine with a hormonal imbalance. Compared to Whisner's dour, mean-spirited Dennis, Goodrich's Warren is a bundle of sputtering cheer and doe-eyed obliviousness. In the early scenes, the actors vividly delineate the contrast between the two characters; Warren, the prototypical ADD case, leaps about the furniture and breaks things with a football. Dennis, who considers himself the alpha male and spends most of his time proving it, immediately sets about grinding his friend's ego to powder. "I'm the basis of half your personality," he roars. "I'm a one-man youth culture for you assholes."
Exposing the anomie and inertia of any youth culture is risky business. Infected perhaps by the spiritual paralysis of its subjects, This Is Our Youth also proves essentially inert. After wrestling and cursing for a few minutes, Dennis and Warren hatch a half-assed scheme to invest their ill-gotten capital in cocaine. At the same time, Warren plots to bed a comely material girl named Jessica (Tracey Maloney). Naturally things go awry on both fronts. Yet although a great deal happens over the course of this lost weekend, none of it is of particular consequence. Warren pawns his toys and confronts his father, but he is still a lost soul. The offstage overdose of another dealer sends Dennis on an existential bender, but he is no better for it. "I'm high on fear," he says during a drug-addled rant. "I am completely stoned out of my mind on fear." As a confession of dread, this is a pale cousin of the "Tomorrow" soliloquy of Macbeth.
Perhaps, then, Lonergan's message is that these kids lack the cultural vocabulary to articulate their angst. Though Warren eventually breaks out of Dennis's orbit, Lonergan offers no assurances of a safe landing. This, he suggests, is youth in its stupid and contagious glory. If only that were enough to entertain us for two hours. Long before Warren reaches escape velocity, we have begun to wish that Lonergan's youth would grow up.