This Is Our Youth by Kenneth Lonergan is apparently a big deal. Or was. People tell me that five-ish years ago every movie star in their early mid-twenties from Colin Hanks to Freddie Prinze Jr was brawling for a role. It’s easy to see why. With its comedy, pontification and shards of melodrama, it’s saturated with opportunities for acting of the egregious look-I-can-do-realacting- I’m-on-a-stage-and-everything kind.
Its story is an ill advised jigsaw puzzle of tone – by turns a comic yarn of two friends, a bag of money and some “what could possibly go wrong?” capering, an off-beat examination of relationships and communication and, finally, a polemic exposition on being all shouty and obvious about the play’s message. It is the second of these pieces of story with which it succeeds the most – the play’s highlight being the end of the first half as Warren (Allan Henry) and Jessica (Rachel Forman) manage to talk a lot at each other and yet totally fail to really communicate. Sadly, such marvelous moments are rare and it falls far into the trap of melting into overlong monologues (which need a neon AUDITION-FODDER sign in the background).
Where Youth fails is in its schizophrenia. It must be said that in its first half Youth handles mutations of mood well but the second half destroys that by sinking into little more than hysterical yelling about easy themes like death, friendship and money. This is done as a seizure of words spilling out of Dennis (Martyn Wood). It’s a big jar of preachy not-neededness. Also, it is rather amazing how with its swearing, drugs and sex, Youth still manages to be really rather mild, failing to be as ugly or shocking as it needs to be.
Youth’s sense of humour, aided by the cast’s notable comic skills, goes a long way towards saving the play, but trips itself up by resorting to hideous sitcom humour that is little more than people insulting each other at gratuitous and alarming length. The play’s 1981 setting is done well, resisting all major urges for easy nostalgic jokes. Rachel More’s direction was inoffensive, clean and crisp. Brian King and Jen Lal’s 80s music video inspired design of silky blacks, free standing windows and soft primary colours hits just the right note. The cast all give very watchable performances with Henry and Wood working well as a comic duo. On their own, Wood hits a good level of quirk and intensity and Allan brings depth to a character that could easily be a one-line description. Rachel Forman gives one of her usual outstanding performances. She’s funny, neurotic and wonderful like a big ball of amazing. She owns every inch of that stage and I could watch her forever.
When it comes down to it, This Is Our Youth isn’t terrible. It’s just not good enough (even in spite of the cast’s good work) to really properly recommend.
This Is Our Youth
Written by Kenneth Lonergan
Directed by Rachel More
At Circa Mar 1 – 29