Friday, September 12, 2014

This Is Our Youth Opening

A revival of This Is Our Youth, Kenneth Lonergan's 1996 drama about disaffected youth set in Reagan-era New York City, opened last night at Broadway's Cort Theatre.  The production, which stars Kieran Culkin, Michael Cera, and Tavi Gevinson, and which was directed by Tony-winner Anna D. Shapiro, began at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

The reviews are in and are about as strong as any I have seen of late.  The three stars have been given various degrees of praise.  Michael Cera has received the strongest reviews of the three, with reviewers generally lauding his abilities, even if he is simply playing the type of character he always plays and is well known for.  Mr. Culkin was in the middle of the pack, being reviewed as fitting in well in a strong production, if not adding anything particularly spectacular.  Ms. Gevinson got the weakest reviews of the set and, in fact, the only negatively reviewed part of the show.  She was, from my understanding of the review, described as having a shrill voice that would otherwise be annoying were she not so well directed into submission and competence.

The strongest two elements of this production seem to be the direction and the writing -- at least of the first act.  Ben Brantley said of the show that "the acrobatics being performed in Anna D. Shapiro's sensational, kinetically charged revival of [the play] … aren't anything like those you'd find at the Cirque du Soleil.  But they're every bit as compelling, and probably (painfully) a whole lot closer to your own experience."  Marilyn Stasio of Variety Magazine generally agreed, describing the production as a "superbly directed staging" of Mr. Lonergan's play.  As for the writing, Mr. Brantley summed it up best.  "Though first performed nearly two decades ago, and set in the early 1980s, "This Is Our Youth" hasn't dated in the usual way of portraits of bright and sullen young things banging their heads against the walls of a society that doesn't understand them."  The only complaint about the writing, however, was an ending that was not satisfying.  In the last quarter of the play, it would seem that the magic deflates out of the play by seeming to feel the need to explain the meaning behind everything seen up to that point.  But I wonder if Mr. Lonergan was trying to make the point that this is what youth is about -- the need to have everything explained and given meaning in a world not yet understood.

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