This Is Our Youth

Set over 30 years ago; written about 20 years ago; feels totally current. The angst, the identity crises, the longing to rise above your parents and figure out what makes you happy... It's all the same. Methods, cultural references and technology might be different, but that's superficial. This is our youth.

Set on the Upper West Side in March 1982, Kenneth Lonergan's long-gestating This is Our Youth takes a look at disaffected, upper-middle class (maybe wholly upper class) Jewish young adults, who are not quite ready for the "adult" part of that descriptor.

Lights come up on Dennis (Kieran Culkin), who is pulled out of his TV-watching trance when Warren (Michael Cera) rings his buzzer. Warren has been kicked out of his home by his father and is looking to crash with Dennis, who is definitely Warren's weed connection, and possibly his friend. The two pontificate on life, and think up Ponzi-like schemes to get money and girls. Enter Jessica (Tavi Gevinson), who challenges Warren to think differently (or at all) about life's "big" issues, and is also his romantic interest.

As Dennis, Warren and Jessica struggled to find their place in the world, I was taken with how modern their restlessness felt. But then I realized that it wasn't that it was modern; rather, their concerns are timeless, universal concerns that are part of growing up. It's somewhat comforting, actually, to think that everything we have gone through has been gone through—and survived—before. And it'll all happen again and we'll be fine. It's just part of becoming who you are.

One key difference between this and other such coming of age tales is the elevated writing. Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret, You Can Count on Me) is an eloquent writer and masterful, too, since his dialogue feels natural rolling off the cast's tongues. For their part, Culkin, Cera and Gevinson, directed by Anna D. Shapiro (August: Osage County, The Motherfucker with the Hat), all do fine work.

Kieran Culkin (my favorite Culkin, if you want to know; watch Igby Goes Down) excels as the pseudo-intellectual who has an opinion on everything and mostly talks at people. Michael Cera (Arrested Development) breaks out of his trademark mumble-and-shuffle style of acting to realize a full portrait of an aimless youth staring down adulthood and all its inherent responsibilities and questions. And fashion prodigy Tavi Gevinson (who just graduated from high school) does nicely as Jessica, though her delivery sometimes borders on shrill.

Though the play has been around for a while (it premiered off-Broadway in 1996), this marks its (and its playwright's) Broadway debut. While I wasn't fully enraptured with the play I'm glad it's finally bowing on Broadway, exposing a new and wider audience to this well-written and keenly observed meditation on what's it's like to be on the verge of adulthood.

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