Sunday, October 12, 2014

Was My Youth Really That Long Ago?

This is Our Youth, the play by Kenneth Lonergan playing on Broadway at the Cort Theater is not MY youth. Sure, I was living in New York City by 18 years old. The same decade in which the play is set (the 80s). And I would have many evenings with friends where we would sit around trying to solve the problems of the world and talk about what we would become in 5 to ten years. But my issues were not solved by rich parents or smoking pot and doing drugs to take me to another state of being. I understand that angst and was looking forward to reliving my past in some way/shape/form with this play - but for me, form is truly lacking in Lonergan's play.

I realize that the NY Times wrote a love letter to this play when it opened, but if you click on the comments it is amazing how many people say they left at intermission. I actually had 
a different experience. I walked in and saw the incredibly accurate set designed by Todd Rosenthal and knew that I have loved Anna D. Shapiro's direction in past productions. I was actually enjoying the three performances in Act I. All three actors (Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and Tavin Gevinson) bring wonderful energy, characterization, and voices to these characters. Cera makes you care for his character that has been kicked out of the house by his dad (and he has stolen some of his father's money). Many say he always plays the same character, but his line delivery evokes laughter and feeling from an audience. The same lines said by someone else would be very different. Culkin is wonderful as the (what appears to be as he is older) - the aging druggie who believes he is a great business man. And Gevinson may be new to acting (I actually loved her in the film Enough Said - but more know her as the child prodigy who became big as a fashion blogger), but holds her own against these two. Each actor has such a distinctive sound to their voice that I found that element so appealing and different in this show.

However, the play itself (which is a revival of a late 90s Off-Broadway play) is in need of more of a plot and an editor. It becomes repetitive in dialogue and in direction. I am well aware that not all plays need to be piled with huge plot lines to pull in an audience, but if it is going to be so small - I would have preferred this to be one of those 90 minute plays that doesn't give an audience an escape plan at intermission. I was laughing all through the first act and wondering where it would go in Act 2. And then it simply slowed down to a halt. While the audience's Saturday night laughter continued into Act II, I almost felt a collective loss of the audience where everyone checked out when Culkin's character went on a drug-induced tirade when it felt as if the show should be winding down. And it didn't. It went on and on and on.

Perhaps that is the theme that Lonergan was going for. That our youth is never ending and we can't tie things up  quickly with a pleasant ending for everyone. Unfortunately for me, this play could have been called Three Good Actors in Search of a Better Play.



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