Does this idea for a play get on your last nerve? A couple of rich-kid college dropouts and drug dabblers, circa 1982, loll around a grubby New York apartment, whining about their lot in life and trying to think of something to fill the rest of their day. Just the thought of watching twentyish mopes bitch and moan about their unfeeling fathers, harridan mothers, and Reagan in the White House is nearly impossible to tolerate.
But somehow, playwright Kenneth Lonergan manages to dance through all the cliché land mines in this scenario and turn the grandly titled This Is Our Youth into a human and rather endearing piece of theater. The production by the Night Kitchen at Dobama Theatre is uneven, but manages to capture enough real moments to keep pace with the clever dialogue.
Dennis is a part-time drug dealer who lives in squalor that is paid for by his wealthy parents, in return for his absence from their lives. Unkempt and unwashed, Dennis is also quick-witted, with a hair-trigger temper -- a far cry from his buddy, Warren, who looks like a lost preppy puppy. Warren has just been kicked out of his dad's prestigious address on Central Park West and grabbed 15 large on his way out. His only other possession is a suitcase full of vintage toys from the 1950s, also worth a goodly amount of jack.
Equally attracted and annoyed by this unexpected trove of money and valuable memorabilia, Dennis accepts the $200 Warren peels off his wad to pay an old debt. But then Dennis jerks Warren around by mocking his friend's tight-ass nature and his inability to get laid ("It's a sexual drought like the Irish potato famine of 1848"). Afraid of what Warren's dad might do when he discovers his cash gone, they cobble together a plan to buy some blow, have a big night with Dennis' girlfriend and her pal Jessica, and sell the remaining coke, so that Warren can replace the money.
Director Jeremy Paul handles the three-person cast well, with Evan Kondilas as Dennis seamlessly gliding from bored disinterest to barely repressed anger at his family, his girl, and himself. Clean-cut Tom White is physically perfect as needy Warren, trying to maintain his friendship with volatile Dennis while trying to bed seductive Jessica. And Madaline Jones never overplays Jessica, the would-be fashion designer, as she nails Warren's identity: "Right now, you're a rich little burnout pot-smoking rebel, but in 10 years you're gonna be a plastic surgeon remembering how wild you used to be."
One of the toughest things a playwright (and director) can ask actors to do is just be natural. This is particularly true for young performers who haven't yet absorbed the concept that acting naturally is a style, not a state of being. This trio too frequently lapses into out-of-character smiles in response to their own antics -- smiles that appear genuine, but feel out of place. As a result, some of Lonergan's insights lack the clarity they might have otherwise had. Even so, this Youth isn't wasted on the young, hitting its target more often than it misfires.