july 2017 | Volume 157
This Is Our Youth. Photo credit: Ken Thorne
Midtwenties Theatre Society is a new company making an auspicious debut with Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth. The three young actors are terrific. Beau Han Bridge directs with confidence; it’s hard to believe this is his first directing gig. He and the actors fully embrace the gritty naturalism of the script, and it’s not really their fault that the last third of the show loses focus as the script drifts aimlessly rather than driving for home.
But fingers crossed that the story the play tells is not of their youth, because this is one ugly, depressing portrait of wasted young lives in a particularly dysfunctional corner of the American nightmare.
We’re in the scuzzy Manhattan apartment of hunky, nasty Dennis (Zach Currie), a low-level slacker drug dealer. In comes mousy Warren (Quinn Hinch), a classic loser. It’s not clear whether he and Dennis are actually friends, as each of them suggests from time to time, or whether Warren just buys pot from Dennis. But Warren’s rich father has kicked him out of the house and he has come here for … what? Friendship? Sympathy? Sanctuary?
In the event, what he gets from obnoxious, narcissistic Dennis is unrelenting sarcasm and bullying: “You should be thanking the lord that you even met me, you fucking asshole!”
That Warren has stolen $15,000 cash from his father, plus has a suitcase full of antique toys and things which might be worth something, makes Dennis take some interest.
Meanwhile, Jessica (Mackenzie Cardwell) shows up, a truly hot girl that virginal, nerdy Warren really likes. It’s not clear what she’s doing there or why she stays, except that she’s as lost and as careless with herself as the boys are. When she and Warren start talking, they both turn out to be pretty smart and you begin to see what she might see in him. They actually make kind of a sweet couple.
But the playwright has already signaled, in multiple ways, that anything good in their world is likely to be doomed. I won’t give away the rest, except to say it doesn’t end as terribly as you fear it might. Needless to add, though, it doesn’t end well.
I can’t say enough good things about all three actors, so comfortable in their characters’ thoroughly uncomfortable skins, racing with nary a hitch through large chunks of dialogue that sound like other large chunks of their dialogue, fully committing to the emotional and sometimes physical violence and misery of their characters’ lives.
These aren’t poor kids. They and their circle are middle class and beyond. But they have no jobs, no schooling and no prospects. They come from broken families and live in a tight circle of doing drugs, hanging out, and having sex that seems as pointless and empty to them as anything else. When a moment arises in the play that suggests there might be hope for an alternative, Lonergan snuffs it out. They’re like Mamet characters in training.
This may be realism. It feels more like cynicism.
But I can’t wait to see this talented crew do something with a few more colours than just black.
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