Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 play This Is Our Youth is a neat little love story about a sociopathic bike messenger and drug dealer, Dennis Ziegler (Kieran Culkin), and his sniveling, obsequious friend, Warren Straub (Michael Cera). After Warren steals $15,000 in cash from his physically abusive father, he flees to the emotionally abusive Dennis, and the two spend their time playing grownup and talking around their situation. “What is gonna happen to you, man?” Dennis asks Warren. “What’s gonna happen to anybody? Who cares?” he replies. These are the kids of “the last pathetic remnants of Upper West Side Jewish liberalism,” kids whose parents pay their rent but don’t pay any attention. “These are proceeds from my unhappy childhood,” Warren says of his money. The title, of course, is deliberately presumptuous. This is not our youth but a very specific type of youth—the kind that has garnered an exhausting amount of media attention in the last few years. It’s an obvious choice for revival, then, but as long as it doesn’t prompt any more op-eds about “millennials,” it has earned its place on the Broadway stage.
Dennis’ question to Warren is actually the coda to a tirade in which he tells his friend that nobody can stand him because he is a “fuckin’ idiot” and “an annoying loudmouth little creep” who can never get laid. But Dennis will later be mortally offended when Warren accuses him of not being on his side and will in fact start crying after Warren refers to him as his “personal hero.” The two are a 1980s version of George and Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a couple stuck in a sadomasochistic relationship in which Dennis constantly beats Warren with the truth and Warren continues to fuel Dennis’ delusions.
The casting here is perfect. Mr. Culkin is a first-rate actor, even if he leans heavier on Dennis’ menace than his loneliness, and he spews his diarrhetic abuse with an infectiously gleeful ease—there is nothing quite like great, vile language. Mr. Cera seems unable to escape from parts like Warren, but he is nonetheless just about the ideal person to stutter lines like, “I never really got into the whole cigarette scene myself, but I hear great things about it,” while jittering around the stage in excess, aimless energy. And Tevi Gevinson, playing Warren’s crush Jessica Goldman, has the right amount of tentative innocence and defensive standoffishness.
Admittedly, This Is Our Youth comes at a time when this reviewer at least is weary of endless speculation on the trials of hyper-priveledged, metropolitan American twentysomethings. It can also at times feel like the perfect college play. But in the end, director Anna Shapiro, Mr. Lonnergan, and their actors have done such an excellent job that the worn content is trumped by the high quality.
Review first appeared in Scribicide