Sex! Drugs! Rock and Roll! Unless you are over 80, these three touched your teen years. Kenneth Lonergan’s This is Our Youth is set in 1982, 35 years after the official birth of Rock and Roll. It was in 1947 when Wynonie Harris’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” became a hit. The popular Bill Haley and His Comets’ 1952 hit “Rock The Joint” introduced Rock to the masses. Drugs! Well that started centuries before the dreaded Rock and Roll, as did sex. Neither could be blamed on contemporary teenagers. Enough history.
Dennis Ziegler (Joshua Everett Johnson) is a small-time drug dealer and user. He is a mental mess. As with his two contemporaries, he comes from an affluent family, but prefers to live in an unkempt dump. Warren Straub (Tom Zohar) has a hero-worship complex of Dennis. He is emotionally immature. He has run away from his wealthy, abusive father, impulsively absconding with $15,000. Rounding out the trio of this college-age group is Jessica Goldman (Rachael VanWormer), a mod-dressed prep-school girl about to have a very new experience with Warren.
We enter their lives for two days. Dennis, a totally unfit entrepreneur, is off to sell some of Warren’s valuable childhood memorabilia just as Jessica enters. Warren has fancied Jessica from afar and they are together, together in a fight fest that, of course, ends with romance and an extremely sensual long-lasting kiss. The interplay of VanWormer and Zohar is electric. They compress a month of “learning to know you” in one scene. Their verbal fisticuffs is enhanced by intricate body language that is more explosive than the charged script.
Francis Gercke’s direction is inspired. He violates rules. He puts in pauses that are not only pregnant, but about to give birth. They give the moment and emotions more power and more expression.
Johnson does a meltdown in the second act that is truly worth the price of admission. The frustrations of his character explode in what could only be the result of too many failures and way too many drugs. Dramatic lighting by Ashley Jenks enhances the drama and trauma of the scene. As his depression sinks into the pits and his speech becomes a race against time, the lights are all but extinguished. Johnson has created an extremely complex character.
This Is Our Youth typifies many of the tribulations facing city kids. While set in the ’80s, it could have been, somewhat less traumatic, in the ’50s or, possibly more traumatic, the beginning of this century. These dissimilar young people attempting to leave the protection of their homes and, of course, the restrictions therein, face life on their terms. Some of it can bring great pleasure for a moment as experienced by Warren, terrible desperation by Dennis, and deep confusion by Jessica. This cast gives all of this to their audience and we laugh and cry along with them. Don’t miss it.
Joshua Everett Johnson, Tom Zohar, Rachael VanWormer
Set Design Francis Gercke, Light Design Ashley Jenks, Costume Design Amanda Sitton, Sound Design Adam Brick, Props/Asst SM P.J. Anbey, SM Allison Zlatnick, Wardrobe Mistress Gus Lancaster, Props Running Crew Rachel White
Total Rating: Three Stars
Author: Kenneth Lonergan
Directed: Francis Gercke
Date Reviewed: January 19, 2008
Dates: Thursday thru Sunday, January 19 to February 17, 2008
Running Time: 139 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
Caution Guidance: Adult language
New Village Arts Theatre
2787B State Street
Box Office Phone 760 433-3245 (www.NewVillageArts.Org)