REVIEW: This is our Youth (The Basement)

Ladies and Gentlemen: Our Youth

Escape from New York  [by Tim George]

Ladies and Gentlemen: Our Youth
Ladies and Gentlemen: Our Youth

Directed by Benjamin Henson, this new revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s pressure cooker of disaffected youth in Reagan-era New York is by turns claustrophobic, bleak, and nihilistic. It is also blackly comic and surprisingly profound.

A young man steals $15000 from his father and holes up with his only friend, who also happens to be his dealer. High on drugs and increasingly paranoid about how to fix this situation before they both get in trouble, the duo are forced to confront the pointlessness of their own existence.

With its hellish portrait a generation, a city and a country in crisis, This Is Our Youth is a small story with big ideas. The fallacy of the confidence of youth. The lack of control we have over our own lives. Our inability, as human beings, to ever truly communicate with one another.

Taking place within the sweaty confines of the drug dealer’s apartment, Henson stages the action in what, for all intents and purposes, is a metal box (set design Christine Urquhart) that dictates both the geography of the apartment and the limited agency of the characters, with the audience arranged in a traverse stage arrangement.

As the titular youths, Alex MacDonald, Alex Jordan and Ryan Dulieu are, quite simply, brilliant. A small chamber piece like this needs to fire on all cylinders and the small cast work together like a well-honed rowing team.

Playing Dennis Ziegler, the drug dealer with delusions of grandeur, MacDonald manages to bring a vulnerability to his macho posturing. Meanwhile, Alex Jordan handles the role of Jessica, a girl who is wiser than her years but without the life experience to match, with wit and empathy. More in control than the hyper Dennis and the gormless Warren, Jessica is able to confront the ennui and lack of purpose affecting her generation, but has no ideas about how to prevent herself from spiralling into the same existential crisis.

Oscillating between terrified man-child and total fuckup who can’t help but make a bad situation worse, Ryan Dulieu performs a major balancing act as sad sack Warren Straub. Straub is the kind of character who could have become a weaselly, cowardly caricature, but Dulieu manages to leaven the character with subtlety. There is a self-awareness to his performance which manages to make his Straub both sympathetic and profoundly sad. Like the audience, he knows he is in a cage.

Playwright Kenneth Lonergan has lately become known for the epic 5 year battle to finish his film Margaret. Another tale of disaffected New York youth, this time living under the shadow of 9/11, this project is probably the closest in tone and intent to This is Our Youth, albeit with less of the verbal dexterity and economy which gives this play such a sense of momentum and drive.

A thought-provoking, and rather timeless dissection of issues facing contemporary Western culture, This Is Our Youth is the kind of meaty, verbose production that makes the Basement such  a vital and exciting venue. Catch it while you can.

This is our Youth plays Upstairs at The Basement until 18 April. Details see The Basement.

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Dione Joseph and Pantograph Punch review by Sam Brooks

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