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This Is Our Youth

Kenneth Lonergan
Garrick
(2002)

This is Our Youth apparently wants to be the next Art! It is currently on its third youthful trio and has plans to change cast every couple of months or so. Whether there is a sufficient supply of good American actors in their early twenties who can both draw audiences and hold their attention remains to be seen. Like the last two casts, this one is made up of American film actors and once again, their names are famous.

Dennis Ziegler is played by Colin Hanks, a man who looks uncannily like his superstar father and has already made a couple of big-budget movies. Ziegler is a little like the Gordon Gecko of his own little subculture. These are young New York Jewish kids in 1982 who have time, money and drugs on their hands. The set designed by Jeremy Herbert is interesting in that it cuts down the Garrick's proscenium arch into a kind of widescreen TV image of Dennis's grungy apartment.

Hanks plays an irascible young man who makes his money by small-scale drug deals. His relationships are always bad as his temper overtakes any good intentions that he may have. He seems to be a classic case of the bully who has grown out of his own weakness of character.

His best, if overburdened, friend is Warren Straub, played by Kieran Culkin, in this case another budding film star with a famous brother rather than father. Straub has run off with $15,000 of his father's money and no real certainty as to what he wants to do with it. He's not lucky with women as Dennis is at pains to point out, so getting laid and doing some blow will probably prove a satisfactory result. Warren does not have the confidence of his friend and therefore allows himself to be insulted and bullied at every turn.

Into their lives comes the tiny Jessica Goldman played by Alison Lohman, yet another young film star. The initial tender scene between the incredibly shy Warren and the almost equally shy Jessica rings very true and the ice is eventually broken, perhaps symbolically by Jessica's discovery of Warren's childhood toys which he regards as his greatest asset.

The play then shows how these three characters' lives develop over a couple of days as they worry at each others sore points and contemplate the realities of the bad side of drugs as one of their friends dies horribly. Reality also impinges as the youngsters atomise the lives of their parents. They may all be rich but very few of them are happy. They also worry a great deal about the activities of their wild children. It seems inevitable that by now, twenty years later these youngsters will have become replicas of their parents as is predicted by Alison early in the play.

As well as looking at these three young lives, the play also makes some oblique comments about Reagan's America and its capitalist values. The President himself is constantly present in the guise of a poster that Dennis uses as a dartboard. In some ways, things have changed very little in the last twenty years as the Republican President has been succeeded by his Vice-president's son.

The performances are all good and, in particular, the scene where Dennis gets angry Colin Hanks is really powerful. Laurence Boswell's original direction supported by Rebecca Gatward's work with the current company ensures that the pairs play off each other very well. At almost no stage do all three actors appear together.

This is a hip play with a deeper undercurrent of social comment that can appeal to both old and young. It will be interesting to see whether future cast changes prove a strong enough draw to allow it to sell at West End prices to what are likely to be predominantly young audiences.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher