February 14, 2003

Our rowdy, raucous Youth

I still wonder how this production so successfully replicated the condition of my apartment on stage. This is Our Youth, a play by Kenneth Lonergan, directed by second-year Garth Johnston, takes place in a 20-something boy's one-room Upper West Side trash can--his apartment. The amazingly realistic condition of the stage is only one small part of making you forget that you're watching theater, rather than the real life of "those kids I knew in high school."

The play, which tells the story of three kids from New York City in their early twenties, begins as Warren (played by Paul Dichter) drops in on his friend Dennis (Ben Sage) at Dennis's aforementioned apartment. The ensuing dialog, which begins the play, though a bit rushed at times, is phenomenally realistic. The relationship between Sage and Dichter on stage lacks any of the contrivance or pretense so often found in theater. In addition to the rare treat of seeing actors portray characters their own age, these seem even more believable, as if Dichter and Sage were not acting at all.

The playful and almost brotherly antagonism between the two boys pulls you into the show immediately, presenting a relationship any boy knows. As this first encounter ends with Dennis going off to meet a fat drug dealer named Stuie to engage in some sort of complex economic scheme involving cocaine and a part of the $15,000 Warren stole from his father when he was kicked out of his house, you might think the show could only go downhill. Fortunately, as soon as Dennis leaves, Warren's crush, Jessica (played by the vibrant Fleming Ford), enters the scene.

Warren immediately goes from a worried fugitive high on adrenaline to a nervous, uncomfortable, stammering boy, tripping over himself to impress a girl he desperately wants to like him. From an uncomfortable conversation to nervous dancing to a trepid kiss, Ford and Dichter play their parts to a T. I almost had to be restrained from leaping out of my seat and yelling, "You obviously both like each other, just make out and get it over with!" Once again, between Lonergan's script, Johnston's directing, and Dichter, Ford, and Sage's acting, I didn't feel as though I was watching student theater, but rather snippets of my own youth (still in progress).

These almost painfully realistic two-person scenes continue throughout the entire play, their intensity making the time fly. The script, while displaying a flimsy plot at times, is never lacking in comedy. The most amazing thing about the show is that no character goes unchanged. Warren and Dennis go from worried and invincible to depressed and scared. Jessica goes from confident, sweet, and loveable to insecure, confused, and frustrated. These transformations happen before your eyes in a sincere and gut-wrenching way. After Sage's absolutely stunning monologue at the end of Act II, which drives the play home, you do not realize what you have seen until the lights come up on stage and you see not Warren, Dennis, and Jessica, but Paul, Ben, and Fleming holding hands and bowing: splendid and real theater.

This is Our Youth is playing February 13-15 at 8 p.m. in the Francis X. Kinihan Third Floor Theater at the Reynolds Club. Admission is $5.