BWW Reviews: THIS IS OUR YOUTH, Entitled Slacker Nostalgia
Slackers were all the rage when Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth premiered Off-Broadway in 1996. Corporate outsourcing and the longevity of Baby Boomer careers had convinced overeducated and underemployed Gen-Xers they had little chance of achieving more than their parents, and many identified with the aimless youths of movies like Clerks and Reality Bites and accepted the animated stars of Beavis and Butthead as role models.
Into this Clintonian age was thrown a modest comedy/drama that looked back at slackers of the early Reagan years; kids from well-to-do families with no need to grow up as long as mom and dad's checks clear.
College dropout Dennis isn't exactly living a princely life, but his parents pay for his Upper West Side apartment just to keep him out of their hair, and he makes out fine with his income from bike messengering and drug dealing.
His shy, not-very-bright stoner buddy Warren has stolen $15,000 from his abusive dad and intends to use it to start a new life, but Dennis knows his buddy's pop has a mean streak and insists, for their own safety, that he return the money.
But first, there's no reason they can't spend a little of it. Dennis is sure he can make back anything they spend by selling some snort or one or two of the collectables Warren keeps in his suitcase. Maybe a pair of hookers? Or maybe a night at The Plaza with one of Dennis' girlfriends and her friend, FIT student Jessica, who the virgin Warren has a crush on.
But when too much money gets spent too quickly, the boys panic as their attempts to replace the dough get bungled.
The Seinfeld decade had popularized the idea of laughing at characters without feeling any sympathy for them, and director Mark Brokaw's very funny original production of This Is Our Youth got an abundance of laughs out of watching the entitled kids screwing up their lives.
Anna D. Shapiro's Steppenwolf production, now transferred to Broadway, speaks in softer tones and offers more realistic pathos. It's a legitimate choice, but one that exposes dead spots where the text seems overwritten. Some trimming is in order.
But the company is appealing enough to keep the proceedings engaging. Kieran Culkin is terrific as the charismatic and domineering Dennis, who invents a lifestyle that's his own version of being a responsible adult. Though he never fails to point out Warren's failings, Culkin keeps the character's fatherly affection visible.
Michael Cera plays Warren with the requisite helpless innocence and Tavi Gevinson, a writer with limited acting experience, is fine as the smart and opinionated Jessica, but their lengthy getting-to-know-you scene never generates the kind of romantic warmth that Shapiro seems intent on getting.
This Is Our Youth is a good play, but one that works best when its satirical edge is sharpened.