The play is on target, but it’s hard to love the characters in this Asolo/FSU Conservatory production.
By Kay Kipling
“What you are now has nothing to do with what you’re going to be,” says a character in Kenneth Lonergan’s play, and based on the behavior of the three young people in the piece, audience members will be inclined to hope not.
The time is 1982, the place is the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and the two characters we are first introduced to, Dennis and Warren, are pot-smoking, foulmouthed, fighting, parent-hating, unmotivated slackers. In other words, fine specimens of the youth culture Lonergan presents here. While Lonergan’s dialogue rings true, and the performances by the Asolo/FSU Conservatory cast members are generally on target, that doesn’t mean these are people you’d want to spend any time with in real life.
Take Dennis (Matt Brown), an aggressive part-time drug dealer who’s spent the years of their friendship intimidating and insulting the meeker, goofier Warren (Juan Javier Cardenas). There’s no doubt Dennis is manipulatively bright, and he has certain ambitions. But he’s not getting anywhere, including in his relationship with his unseen girlfriend. Warren seems even more of a loser; he’s just been kicked out of his house by his father, from whom he has in turn appropriated $15,000. Both he and Dennis have some plans for that money; in Warren’s case, he ends up spending part of it for a penthouse at the Plaza in order to impress the girl (Jessi Blue Gormezano) he’s trying to bed.
This could all be played for laughs; it could all be played as grim reality. In the case of this production, directed by Barbara Redmond, it’s a bit of both. Just when you’re about fed up with one tone, the play switches to another. And we do gradually realize the reasons behind some of these young, not-yet adults’ behavior as we learn more about their family dynamics.
Jessica (Gormezano) is probably the most easily accessible of the characters. Brown is quite convincing as a bully who backs down when confronted. And Cardenas, while more successful at emphasizing Warren’s infantile side than his intermittently innocent appeal, does gain our sympathy, especially as he picks through his suitcase of childhood memorabilia deciding what to sell in order to repay his angry father.
Be prepared, as one might expect, for some frank language. This Is Our Youth runs through Jan. 21 at the Cook Theatre; call 351-8000 or visit www.asolo.org for tickets.