Monday, November 16, 2009

This is Our Youth by Kenneth Lonnergan

Theatre historians often define major movements in theatre historiography with the lens of hindsight. However, there seems to be a trend over the last 10 years of plays that are particularly Gen X in content and expression. This is Our Youth, a three-person play by Kenneth Lonnergan being presented by Gamut Productions at the BCA, is one of those plays that helps define this generation. Sure, it may not have the Pulitzer cred of Rent or the critical appeal of Red Light Winter, but This is Our Youth could certainly be credited as the Gen X’s Death of a Salesman.
The plot can roughly be described as three Gen X youth living in New York City in 1982. However, as the patron sitting to my left noticed, “This doesn’t have to be set in the 80’s. This could be anytime after 1969.” The story is of two friends, Warren and Dennis, the former is a drug peddler whose parents pay for his rent and the latter is a boomerang child who decides to retaliate by stealing money from his father. Enter Jessica, the FIT student with whom Dennis is infatuated. However, Dennis’ plans to bed this beauty are interrupted by the woman’s intellect, perspicacity, and willingness to challenge the status quo. All three characters become involved in a drug scheme, sexual rendezvous, and the inability to communicate their true emotions which, essentially, is the tragic flaw of these unheroic heroes.
On the surface, the play is about masculine friendship and identity, the drug culture, Gen X, and love. Digging slightly deeper, you realize this play is actually an analysis of the Gen X mentality. Dennis brings with him a suitcase full of antique toys – a symbol of the legacy the Boomer generation left to their children. The question remains, “How do Gen Xer’s make sense out of the legacy they were given by the turbulent 60s?” When Warren returns from selling the merchandise for a fraction of its “worth,” we see the legacy deteriorate. The play spins economic theory, mass mis-communication, and honest human emotion into a tangled web where communication is incomprehensible.
The play is conflicting because at times, one wonders how these characters so involved in drugs can express themselves so lucidly and yet mis-communicate their feelings and emotions so poorly. However, it is brilliant in that it captures the ethos of the Gen X sentimentality. It is one of those plays where you feel that research must be done in frat houses dormitories and drug cartel’s to truly capture the voice of these characters.
This production, though lacking in special effects and professional suavity, definitely captured the essence of the piece with all its discomfort and awkward miscommunication. Jonathon Popp as Dennis portrays a doped-up, sleazy, manipulator that harkens the very spirit of David Mamet, Sam Shephard, and Sean Penn all at once. He seems not only made for this performance but to be giving the performance of his lifetime. Steven Rossignol as Warren displays moments of brilliance, mostly in the presence of the other actors,but one definitely gets the sense that he has real acting chops behind the moribund demeanor. Chelsea Cipolla as the lone female definitely portrays a character whose well-grounded and back-boned – a difficult achievement given the patriarchal tone of the piece.
Although the play is well acted and well directed, one can’t help but notice the white, straight, heterosexist hegemony reified by the play’s themes and content. It’s almost as if the author wants the audience to empathize with the white, straight, middle-class whiney bastards who soak up their trust funds while piddling away their lives as some sort of Greek tragedy. As entertaining and enlightening as this show is into the Gen X aesthetic, it should most be analyzed in terms of its reification of the capitalist system and the way Gen X considers the economy as part of our identification and expression of a contemporary Lost Generation.

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