I was reading Spectrum about a month back when this giant full page ad for This Is Our Youth glared back at me. It wasn’t the fact that Michael Cera (Arrested Development, Juno, Superbad) or Kieran Culkin (Igby Goes Down, Cider House Rules) were going to be coming to Australia to be in it (although that is a feasible draw card). It was the fact that it had come from Broadway, one of the world’s best theatre scenes and that the playwright Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count On Me, Analyze This) is a credible playwright and screenwriter.
That the Sydney Opera House was investing that kind of money to bring the production out was also really pleasing to see. I like watching, credible, well written theatre. Who doesn’t? I like companies that take risks too even if it may be more a commercial cash cow type risk than a creative one. Still, it’s getting young people to the theatre and that’s important in my honest opinion. Just like movies though, there is a lot of drivel out there and you’re forking out a heck of a lot more than a movie ticket so you want to know it will be good.
This Is Our Youth follows Warren Straub (Cera) as he turns up at his friend Dennis Ziegler’s (Culkin) run down New York apartment, looking for a place to stay after having a disagreement with his Dad and taking with him $15,000 of his Dad’s business money.
Warren is an awkward, gangly and quirk young man, who has brought memories of his childhood in a suitcase. He’s the gentler, passive friend in contrast with Dennis who is outspoken, inconsiderate and selfish, spending most of his day either dealing drugs, sleeping late or watching television. They’re intelligent Upper West Side kids with educations and money to match. They’re both lost and lacking in this need to take some responsibility for their situations. Dennis constantly verbally attacks Warren, telling him all the things he’s doing wrong in his life. Their interactions are fast paced and capture the essence of teenage conversation. In answer to Dennis’s questions Warren teeters between lots of “I don’t know” to thoughtful grabs of deep and meaningful personal awakening to the ways of the world. For someone who works with teenagers daily this totally hits the spot.
I found Cera and Culkin hillarious together. I particularly felt Culkin was the stronger of the two mainly because I found the character of Dennis quite repulsive, which I liked but Cera’s comic timing, use of pause and subtlety really creates a sensitivity in Warren which is so likeable. Warren’s scenes with Jessica (Emily Barclay) capture the awakardness of young love and the arguments that seemingly have no point or purpose. The moment where Warren complains to Jessica about not understanding what they’re arguing about again captures, to me, the essence of youth – this inability to articulate new feelings and to have a clear sense of who you are and what you should be. The tension between Cera and Barclay was strong and believable.
I’ve read a couple of reviews that comment on the sitcom nature of the play, that it doesn’t go anywhere, that the set sits like a tiny boat lost in a huge sea which to some degree is true but theatre is about its characters, themes and ideas resonating with its audience and I think it does this very strongly and humourously. A must see.