This Is Our Youth
August 2, 3, 5 and 6
There is no more fitting way to signal that a show is to be set in the 1980’s than to play audio of Ronald Regan’s speech on upholding traditional family values while the audience shuffles in to take their seats for the performance. This Is Our Youth opens in the Upper West Side apartment of a too cool for school, loud-mouth drug dealer named Dennis. His buzzer rings and to Dennis’s aggravation, it’s his friend Warren, a rich-kid burnout pothead that has finally pushed his father too far and been thrown out of the house. Not only does Warren arrive wanting to stay at Dennis’s place, he brings with him a suitcase of his prized possessions consisting of retro toys and electronics, a collector’s item baseball cap given to him by his grandfather and the $15,000 Warren has stolen from his father.
What to do with the money, questions of if they should give it back, the repercussions if they don’t and finally a plot to use the money to buy cocaine, snort some of it, resell the rest at a profit and return the money to Warren’s father becomes the narrative for most of the play. Added into the plot is a courtship story of sorts when Warren finally gets the chance to “date” Jessica, the girl he is pining for. The two meet at Dennis’ apartment when Dennis goes out to buy the coke and the pair argues, talks and eventually hooks up only to erode shortly after, leaving Warren rejected and alone as usual.
Nothing wrong with the story itself, but some of the dialogue and the props threatened to derail the show right from the start. Let’s start with the ubiquitous joint that Warren and Dennis smoke throughout the performance. It is HUGE and plastic and white and allows the performers to exhale smoke after inhaling. I appreciate the affect…but I had to giggle every time I saw it. It looked as though they were toking on a big white spit ball tube. It was a minor problem, but I found it bothersome. More concerning however was the whole 80’s setting. At the risk of dating myself, I remember the 80’s well and was probably around the age the characters were meant to be in the play in that infamous decade. Other than a turned up polo collar shirt, oversized bomber leather jackets, high-waisted jeans and the buying and doing of coke, I failed to find any real 80’s vibe or reference in the dialogue. Where was the “gag” or the “gnarly” or “psych” or “dweeb” or “lame”…..I could go on but I’ll stop there in case it becomes catchy. Frankly, without the lingo, the story could have taken place today and it would have been just as effective. Without a solid 80’s immersion, the setting felt half-baked to me.
All this could have been forgiven if the acting was strong all around. The relationship between Dennis and Warren is the centre of the narrative with Dennis hurling verbal abuse at Warren all the while claiming to be his friend. It’s a belittling that Warren for the most part takes and counters with his oral diarrhoea and filter-less spewing of thoughts and opinions. The two are very charged and wordy with each other and ultimately were unequally matched in acting chops. Geoffrey Brown as Warren is a joy to watch. Channelling a geeky-cool, semi-insecure persona, Brown is by far the standout of the play. When the dialogue failed and the plot drifted, I found myself happily watching him and his ability to fully embody a character even when the attention wasn’t on him. Randy Burke as Dennis by comparison often projected a try-hard energy that felt overacted at times and amateur at others. Burke did have a glimmer of brilliance in a monologue he delivers at the end of the performance where he describes himself as “stoned with fear” after the death of his drug source, but by that time it’s too late to put himself on par with Brown. Cassidy Warring gives a good enough turn as Jessica and does manage to hold her own with Brown’s verbal sparring, but still falls short of Brown’s immense talent.
In the end, This Is Our Youth failed to wow me. The story has potential and I was delighted to be introduced to Brown’s acting ability, but the bright spots just didn’t justify the 1.5 hour timeframe or the narrative commitment.
For the guys – There are drugs, and chasing women, the threat of violence and guys sassing each other. The testosterone is high if not the quality of the play. MAYBE SEE IT
For the girls – If you want to see a good 80’s story, go home and rent any of John Hughes’ movies. SKIP IT
For the occasional audience – The energy is up the entire play, there is a distinct story and arc to the plot and the actors do a good enough job to make it move along. MAYBE SEE IT
For the theatre junkie – Write down Geoffrey Brown’s name. If you ever hear of him in another performance, run to see it. SKIP IT