This is Our Youth is a Tony Award nominated play by American film director, playwright, and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan. He is perhaps better known for his screen plays: he co-wrote Gangs of New York (2002), and wrote and directed Manchester by the Sea (2016).He has a string of other successes, both films and plays, and This is Our Youth was the first of his plays that really announced to the world that he was a serious playwright to be taken notice of.
Written in 1996, This is Our Youth is set in a Manhattan studio apartment in the early 1980s, when Reagan was President. The action follows a day in the lives of three young friends – Dennis (played by Connor Duncan), Warren (Liam Warmeant) and Jessica (Anastasia Harrald) – as they grapple with trying to find and establish themselves in an adult world. However, they are still very young at heart, and in routine, and they make mistakes along the way as one would expect.
Warren arrives unannounced at Dennis’ apartment after an altercation with his father who is a successful businessman and from whom he has stolen a large amount of cash. Dennis is not keen to be found harboring Warren should his father come ‘knocking’. But Dennis is a drug dealer and a volatile chancer, and sees an opportunity to use the stolen cash to have both a good time and to make some money on the side. The ‘good time’ includes Warren hooking up with Jessica who drops by while Dennis is out attending to ‘business’.
First-time director George Jankovic has assembled a fine cast and has recognised, crucially, that irrespective of Lonergan’s deep-seated messaging about the displacement experienced by liberal-minded people in Reagan’s conservative America, the play is essentially character driven and its success relies on the potency of the relationship the cast establishes with their audience. Jankovic’s production achieves this in spades.
Warmeant excels as the hapless Warren. He plays him with endearing and unrelenting naivety: there are smile-on-your-face moments of unbridled boyishness, as well as glimpses of nascent adulthood. As an audience, we empathize with him as we vaguely recollect the quirks our own coming-of-age stories.
Duncan plays Dennis as an erratic sociopath. Although his performance is a bit ‘shouty’ at times, Duncan consistently delivers a well-considered characterisation that he and Jankovic have negotiated; it is a clash of having little regard for the feelings (and dignity) of others, and, pleasingly, contrasted with simmering self-doubt that reveals moments of compassion.
Duncan’s final scene with Warmeant is particularly well handled. The text is arguably over-written, but both actors stick to their character arcs and favour an approach that borders on nuance and subtlety rather than stormy and brutal exchanges that typify much of their relationship.
Harrald also gives her character contrasting emotions and behaviors that suggest that Jessica is, like the two boys, still working this adulthood-thing out. Her initial meeting with Warren is played with innocence, which eventually gives way to flirtatiousness, and finally to fragility, hurt, resignation and doubt. Harrald does it so well, and is always convincing.
Jankovic doesn’t require his cast to play with American accents, and nor is it really needed, but clear diction is and it’s not always evident, particularly in scenes that involve heightened vocalization or physicality. Jankovic used an intimacy coordinator (presumably for the scenes between Warren and Jessica) but it didn’t really seem necessary. However, the scenes involving physical conflict between Warren and Dennis would have greatly benefitted from the watchful eye of a fight director to add authenticity and diction control. Having said that, the scenes that involved overlapping dialogue were impressively handled.
Jankovic’s studio apartment set is simple but effective, and he moves his cast around it well and with economy. Constructor Don Oswald has ensured it is strong enough to withstand some reasonably robust treatment. Deli Cooper’s set dressings are well designed and carefully executed, and Kate Whyte’s lighting is unfussed.
UATG Student Society’s production of This Is Our Youth is enjoyable, satisfying, and creditable on a number of levels. Director George Jankovic, and actors Connor Duncan, Liam Warmeant, and Anastasia Harrald have aligned their stars and created something of which they can be justly proud.