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Review: 'This Is Our Youth' a temperamental look down '80s lane

'This Is Our Youth' play by Kenneth Lonergan


Warren is a bit like a mischievous puppy. No matter how many times he's sprayed with water and told "no," he slouches into a room to do something else to aggravate his friends. But as with puppies, he's hard not to like. And his forgiving nature is probably the only reason that Jessica and Warren manage to have even one friend.

Warren (Michael Cera) and Dennis (Kieran Culkin) have an argument in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of "This Is Our Youth" by Kenneth Lonergan.
(Michael Brosilow, photo published with permission from Steppenwolf Theatre)

After Warren (played by Michael Cera) is kicked out of his home by his abusive father, he steals $15,000 and bombards his way into his "friend" Dennis' (played by Kieran Culkin) home. And while Dennis rattles off insults for how stupid and idiotic Warren is, audience members wonder are they really friends or does Warren hate him as much as it sounds. The only thing that makes Warren seem halfway decent is trying to help Warren get some action in the form of super sensitive and very attractive Jessica (played by Tavi Gevinson).

When Dennis devises a drug-selling plan to create a profit for both he and Warren to live off of -- after Warren returns the stolen money to his father whose suitcase he took it from -- off he goes to his dealer connects. The original plan was for Dennis to return in less than an hour and for he, Warren, Jessica and Dennis' on-again, off-again girlfriend to do drugs, drink top-shelf champagne and have a little action. However, Warren proves to have more game than Dennis expected, and Jessica and Warren make plans of their own.

But the next day when Dennis finds out that Warren has gotten himself into an even bigger predicament and lost even more money, he wonders if Warren is worth helping or should he just kick him out to face his father.

All three characters are great at their roles. But Warren makes both overly emotional Jessica and obnoxious Dennis tolerable. Dennis regularly throws around the c-word at his girlfriend and seems to be irate at all times. Jessica overanalyzes everything and makes a point of stepping onto her political soapbox to complain about Ronald Reagan's presidency and democracy.

Warren rarely if ever attempts to say anything profound, minus briefly mourning over his sister's murder, his father's abuse, defending his recalled toaster purchase and (surprisingly) standing up to both Dennis and Jessica when they underestimate his strength. What is great about Warren is even when he loses his cool (the baseball hat scene got an immediate "Oooh" from the crowd) he still manages to do it with an even temper and clever comebacks.

The play delved into childhood memories in the '60s and living through the '80s, but audience members of teen to adult ages from any generation can relate to this. In the end, the play is about three young adults who aren't quite sure what to do with their lives. And in a 48-hour-time period, they may not have all the answers but they keep the audience hoping they'll eventually get it right.

"This Is Our Youth" runs June 10 – July 27, 2014 in Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre (1650 N. Halsted St.) in Chicago. Click here for showtimes and details.

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