Tavi Gevinson, Michael Cera to star in ‘This Is Our Youth’ at SteppenwolfContinue reading.
“This Is Our Youth” charts painful steps toward adulthood
‘THIS IS OUR YOUTH’
When: Through July 27
Where: Steppenwolf Theatre Upstairs, 1650 N. Halsted
Info: (312) 335-1650; www.steppenwolf.org
Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
With its high-profile cast (Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and Tavi Gevinson), its Tony Award-winning director (Anna D. Shapiro), and the imprimatur of a veteran film and theater producer (Scott Rudin), who simultaneously announced a Steppenwolf Theatre “tryout” and a subsequent Broadway transfer, what too often has gotten lost in the lead-up to the revival of “This Is Our Youth,” is the profoundly sad, disturbing, tender, and unexpectedly comic nature of Kenneth Lonergan’s enduring 1996 drama.
Lonergan’s play, which unfolds over the course of less than 48 hours, is about late teenage angst painfully morphing into uneasy early adulthood. The time is 1982. The place is New York. Ronald Reagan is in the White House. And the liberal enthusiasms of the 1960s have matured and mostly hardened into something very different.
The two male characters, Warren (Cera) and Dennis (Culkin), are smart but self-destructive upper middle class kids who should be in college, but are not, and are flailing around in their different but related ways. Both are acutely aware of their parents’ unhappiness, which may be why they keep adulthood at such a distance. Fueled by more-than-casual drug use, and by the usual confusion about sex, love and intimacy, they also are locked in a complex friendship that oddly (and unhealthily) counterbalances their opposing personalities and insecurities.
One catalyst of change arrives in the form of Jessica (Gevinson), the beguiling fashion student who captivates Warren, and whose presence suggests both the socializing and the emotionally upending impact of “the feminine.” Another comes with the sudden recognition of mortality, even though Warren, whose older sister died nine years earlier, is already well aware of that fact of life.
For all their “privilege,” these not-quite-twentysomethings are lost and battered. Warren’s parents are divorced, and his father, a self-made businessman, lashes out at his sensitive son. When he is thrown out of the house one night he leaves with a large sum of cash his dad had stashed away, and a suitcase full of the boyhood possessions he most cherishes. And though he is hardly welcomed with open arms by the self-aggrandizing, brashly entrepreneurial Dennis — whose apartment is subsidized by his parents — he has nowhere else to go.
The Steppenwolf production, which opened Wednesday night, arrived amid an almost deafening buzz of hype. But as it turns out, it was merited, and Shapiro has used her actors to great advantage.
Culkin is ideally self-dramatizing and manipulative. But it is Cera who steals the show with his gangly, awkward body language, his sad-sack demeanor, his heartbreaking earnestness, and his subtly emerging sense of self. And something magical happens when he dances with the wholly surprising Gevinson, an 18-year-old beauty who has gone through a very public morphing of her own, evolving from an elfin, wunderkind fashionista and editor into a genuine butterfly of an actress — one who lights up the stage and easily can hold her own alongside two far more experienced actors.
One final thought: In a culture in which drugs do serious damage, but it is considered un-hip to rail against them, you can only hope that young audiences for this show will get past the flamboyance and pay attention to the play’s non-preachy but bell-clear wake-up call.