You may have heard of Kenneth Lonergan’s This is Our Youth as the play mounted with all-star casts in London, featuring such buzz names as Hayden Christensen, Kieran Culkin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Alison Lohman, and Anna Paquin. Perhaps you heard of it as the play Woody Harrelson came to Toronto to direct. Or maybe, just maybe, you heard about this play as the one every Torontonian twenty-something should see before the production (currently playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre) leaves town.
This is Our Youth is all these things, but the last is most important. Forget Hollywood names and London glitter and focus on Toronto, and the production that actor Marcello Cabezas decided to bring us, securing the rights and producing it himself when opportunities for parts he wanted to play were slim. On the surface, Lonergan’s play follows the typical ‘disaffected young people’ script, peppered with more-clever-than-thou one-liners, gratuitous profanity and a dose of casual sex for good measure, but dig deeper, and you find moments of truth that resonate despite the less than original premise.
Dennis Ziegler (Fabrizio Filippo) is a poor little rich boy, a slacker in his late teens who has turned to drug dealing to support his own vices. When Warren Straub (Cabezas) shows up at his doorway with $15,000 in a shoebox, having been kicked out of his father’s house and stolen the money from dear old dad upon escape, the two friends are stuck together to with cash to burn and years of insecurities to face.
Set in Reagan-era New York City, it is almost eerie how lines from Lonergan’s script continue to ring true today. As Warren and love interest Jessica (Marya Delver) discuss politics and activism, the Democrat vs. Republican conversation could easily be transposed to the Dubya years simply by changing names.
The three young actors (though all about ten years too old for these roles) throw themselves headfirst into the material. Filippo is a wired ball of manic energy, hopping across the stage on a (really) broken foot and spitting out lines with perfectly enunciated disgust at everything around him. Cabezas has the earnest slacker thing down cold- though his lines are often half the length of Filippo’s, his timing is impeccable, making a tossed-off “Whatever!” mean as much as his friend’s curse-laden sentences. Delver tries hard, but she can only fight Lonergan’s words so far-Jessica is an underwritten character, a Trinity College-gone-NYC chick full of pretentious faux-philosophical thoughts and a personality that seems to change from one scene to the next. As is the problem with many youth-driven plays written by males, the female character becomes nothing more than the token love interest, and disappears before the play really makes its point.
In the end, though, it’s the relationship between Dennis and Warren that drives the play, and Filippo and Cabezas bring it to life with subtlety and a natural chemistry that keeps the long (2 hours-plus) production moving at a speedy clip, even with the occasional flubbed line. The two actors play the parts like they were written for them, and in doing so, make the production a must-see. If a play like this with acting of such a high calibre cannot bring young people out to the theatre, nothing will.