How do you fill a Toronto theatre with upwardly mobile twenty-somethings? It’s a question companies across the city have been trying to answer for years, and suddenly, someone seems to have the answer. Actor Marcello Cabezas’ fledging MacIDeas Productions struck gold with last fall’s production of Kenneth Lonergan’s acclaimed This is Our Youth, and has tapped into the same mine once again by casting Sex and the City’s Jason Lewis in the show’s current remount.
Hot show, hot company, hot guy from hit TV show joined by two other hot young actors (Cabezas himself and Katherine Isabelle of Ginger Snaps fame) and a movie-star director (Woody Harrelson returns as director)-with this high a cool factor, one is tempted to borrow Paris Hilton’s favourite phrase and declare “That’s hot!” in lieu of reviewing the production. It is when one stops to consider, however, that both Lewis and Isabelle are theatre novices who are used to camera work, not the stage, that things get interesting.
Dennis (Lewis) and Warren (Cabezas) are poor little rich kids, college-aged stoners on the edge of adulthood with little more to do with themselves than smoke, pick up girls, and whine about their dysfunctional lives. Where Dennis leads, Warren follows; theirs is a typical hero-slave relationship until the day Warren shows up at his friend’s doorstep carrying a shoebox full of cash pilfered from his wealthy father. Suddenly, their lives are thrown into a tailspin as the secret of fifteen thousand missing dollars and a drug deal gone wrong force them to face both their past and their future, and to come to terms with the deep-seated insecurities underlying their relationship.
Throw in some Reagan-era American politics, a little romance, and some gratuitous expletives, and you’ve got a story for the MTV generation, perfectly captured in Lonergan’s wordy, high-energy style. Unfortunately, when you’re remounting a production that garnered great critical acclaim less than a year ago, living up to the original is part of the job, and this cast doesn’t quite manage to accomplish that feat.
While he commands the stage better than one would expect from a theatre newbie, Lewis’ performance comes up short when compared to the scene-stealing, scenery-chewing work of local actor Fabrizio Filippo, who played Dennis in the 2003 production. Though clearly giving it a valiant effort, he never manages to possess the role, causing the character to come off as little more than a whiny, drugged-out jock. Isabelle manages slightly better, giving her ditzy best to the underwritten role of Jessica, Warren’s love interest, but she too trips up in areas where more experienced stage actors would never falter-struggling to project through the long first act, her voice sounded hoarse and on the point of collapse by the time the time Act Two reached its midpoint.
It is Cabezas, often in Filippo’s shadow in the show’s first incarnation, who emerges as the clear star of the show. He is the heart and soul of the piece, tying stray ends together and making Warren’s relationship with Dennis-the driving force of the play-come to life. The young actor is to be commended, not only for his excellent performance, but also for bringing Lonergan’s play to Toronto audiences.
If it takes a Sex and the City connection to bring people out to the theatre, so be it-but it will be an actor they’ve never heard of that will make them glad they came.