Theater Review - Crazy, mixed-up kids

Theatre in the Square's This is Our Youth

Marietta's Theatre in the Square enjoys a reputation as a venue for genteel, Southern-themed shows, so it's the last playhouse where you'd expect to hear Devo's "Jocko Homo" or smell marijuana smoke (or even an herbal simulation) drifting from the stage. This Is Our Youth, directed by Alan Kilpatrick on Theatre in the Square's Alley Stage, plays a little bit like a raunchy punk-rock riff in a music conservatory but succeeds on more than shock value. This Is Our Youth fits in a burgeoning subgenre of plays that retain serious themes and character development while hanging with kids who do drugs and shoot the breeze about sex and pop culture.

In New York's Upper West Side, soft-spoken Warren (Tony Larkin) crashes at the apartment of his friend Dennis (Alexander Brooks), a casual drug pusher with the brio of a wheeler-dealer. Dennis typically bullies his friend, and gets highly indignant when Warren reveals that he's just stolen $15,000 from his vaguely criminal father. But then Dennis hatches a scheme to use the money to earn a profit before returning it, while Warren seems more inclined to blow it on impressing the beautiful but uncertain Jessica (Bethany Anne Lind).

Larkin's acting proves particularly clever in the extended scene when Warren hangs out alone with Jessica: The teen, though trying to "play it cool," instead comes across as surly and argumentative. Warren emerges as the play's most sympathetic character. Yet he is also divorced from reality and convinced that the bigger the self-sacrificing gesture he makes, the greater his love must be, even though the two may have no connection whatsoever.

Playwright Kenneth Lonergan, best known for writing and directing the film You Can Count on Me, sets the play at the dawn of the Reagan era in 1982, and Jessica expresses disdain for the prior generation as having sold out their 1960s idealism. (Lind, who looks barely old enough to drive, comes across as an actual teen, not an actress playing one.) Dennis and Warren each have been failed by their wealthy parents as well, but Lonergan respects his characters and their choices too much to blame their problems solely on the grown-ups. The title This Is Our Youth contains double meaning: "These are our children" and "This was our childhood." This funny, and ultimately moving, play reveals that the fear of death and the longing for companionship aren't things you really grow out of.