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Review: `This Is Our Youth’

This New York review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 3, 1999. All rights


It doesn’t happen too often, but sometimes we can miss

some of the best theater if we blink. This happened two years ago

when Kenneth Lonergan’s play, "This Is Our Youth," opened

to rave reviews and vanished. Santa Claus, or should I say the producers

Barry and Fran Weissler, have apparently waited for the right moment

to bring back the New Group’s production of this exciting, street-smart

contemporary drama. Still boasting two of the original cast, and with

the same director Mark Brokaw, this play about a trio of post-teens,

two young men and one woman, the indolent spoiled and rich children

on Manhattan’s upper West Side, is a stunner.

Although the environment of these crude, rude, sexually-active, drug

dealing and taking, self-destructive characters is one rather more

familiarly and nostalgically depicted in the mid-century works of

J.D. Salinger, the environment changed drastically enough by 1982,

the time of the play and the time of the Reagan administration. By

then the disillusionment with one’s family, the country’s politics,

and the stigma of casually dropping out of college had sent the young

on a more devastating and catastrophic downward spiral.

A universe away from Salinger and the quaint rebukes of the "phony"

life that prompted alienation from Holden, Phoebe, Franny and Zooey,

the characters of "This Is Our Youth" are hell-bent on self-destruction.

They attempt, mostly in ways that make us laugh uneasily, to turn

the world they have inherited on its ear. If nothing about the plot

is especially novel, the wise, often wacky, street talk will prick

up your ears as your eyes take in some of the most outrageously rationalized,

comical, anti-social antics to hit the stage in a long time.

Mark Rosenthal gives a frenetic, off-the-wall performance as Dennis

Ziegler, a loud-mouthed, savvy, wheeler-dealer in drugs and anything

marketable, including his best friend Warren Straub’s lifelong collection

of rare memorabilia. As Warren, Mark Ruffalo expertly facilitates

his insecure character’s unbalanced intelligence with the dopey facade

he has so artfully crafted and mastered. An aimless, confused youth

who has just absconded with $15,000 in cash belonging to his father,

Warren has only Jessica Goldman (Missy Yager) on his mind.

Yager appears to be having fun as the cleverly coy Jessica, a sporting,

sexually permissive sort of girl who isn’t a fool, but can’t say No

to spending a night with Warren in the most expensive suite at the

Plaza Hotel. The irony that pervades the play is the gnawing feeling

that these youths are doing all the wrong things for the right reasons.

At any rate, there isn’t a dull moment under Brokaw’s high-speed (no

pun intended) direction. HHH

— Simon Saltzman

This is Our Youth HHH Douglas Fairbanks, 432 West

42, 800-432-7250. $40. Runs to February 28.

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