Playwright Kenneth Lonergan has much to be grateful for, to Scott Rudin and his consortium of partners who brought us Steppenwolf’s revival of This Is Our Youth, which established Lonergan as a writer of great promise in 1982.
Lonergan delivered on that promise with The Waverly Gallery, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2001. His Lobby Hero in 2002 further added to his reputation. He moved into film with “You Can Count On Me” on which he was writer/director, and that earned him further kudos. Along the way he has written other films, and married J. Smith Cameron, the lovely actress who has contributed a daughter named Nellie.
I say he must now be grateful for Anna D. Shapiro, a multi-award winning director has delivered a particularly winning mounting of this, his first play, reminding us once again how valuable is his contribution to the theatre.
Lonergan’s play, in previous productions in New York, in regional theatre and in London, helped Jake Gyllenhaal, Anna Paquin, Mark Ruffalo and Kieran Culkin to establish themselves and now in two of their roles, he supplies that sort of richly rounded and arresting characters to Tavi Gevinson and Michael Cera. Mr. Culkin returns to the play as well, where some years ago he played the more submissive character “Warren”. In a recent interview he was quoted as saying “It took a lot to convince Kenny (Lonergan) that I could play Dennis. But it was like ‘I have to do this!'” And a good thing too, for he is in full control of the more dominating Dennis, the perfect partner to the irresistible Michael Cera as Warren. Ms. Gevinson appeared last year in the film “Enough Said” but she is new to me, is in fact just a short time out of high school, and she is already an actress of great power and distinction.
These three are all over the stage, set in a studio apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan, detailedly designed by Todd Rosenthal. Lonergan has captured the intelligent but restless young people who were yearning for fulfillment, but not as slackers or complainers, more as aggressive contenders, and though he hasn’t given their play much of a plot, I was still involved in their angst, impressed by their determination to right some wrongs, to outlive some early betrayals and disappointments.
His dialogue is crisp, accurate, revealing and very often hilarious. With three actors of this quality, the two acts and two and a half hours of playing time are richly rewarding. Each of them has had excellent reception in this, but the focus has been shifted slightly toward Mr. Cera, perhaps because he is the most enigmatic of the three. His appealing but offbeat face allows him to play goofy and adolescent one minute, deeply soulful and sensitive in another. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of all of them, but I admit I wouldn’t be surprised if Michael Cera turns up one day soon as a psychopathic killer, a tortured adolescent, or the star of a rollicking musical comedy. There’s more to him than meets the eye.
That applies to Kenneth Lonergan’s fine play as well.
This Is Our Youth is onstage through January 4, 2015 at the Cort Theatre, 138 W 48th Street, NYC.
Details and tickets
Richard Seff, Broadway performer, agent, playwright, librettist, columnist adds novelist to his string of accomplishments, with the publication of his first novel, TAKE A GIANT STEP. His first book, Supporting Player: My Life Upon the Wicked Stage, celebrates his lifetime on stage and behind the scenes. Both books are available through online booksellers, including Amazon.com.
He has also written the book to SHINE! The Horatio Alger Musical which was a triple prize winner at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF).
Each year, Actors Equity recognizes the year’s most outstanding supporting player with, appropriately enough, the Richard Seff Award.