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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Actors Theatre Presents This is Our Youth

Also see Richard's review of Sockdology


The Actors Theatre of San Francisco is currently presenting Kenneth Lonergan's 1996 drama This Is Our Youth. This was one of the noted playwright's first plays and it made its first appearance off Broadway in 1996. I saw the production with the then unknown actors Mark Ruffalo and Josh Hamilton, along with Missy Yager, in the three character coming of age drama.

The play portrays forty-eight hours in the lives of three lost teenagers, children of liberal, wealthy parents, as they contemplate their lives in a grungy apartment in the upper 60s in New York City. Warren Straub is a despondent nineteen-year-old who has stolen fifteen thousand dollars from his abusive lingerie tycoon father. Dennis, who has been kicked out of his parents' home, is a dynamic, drug-dealing friend who rents the walk up apartment. Rounding out this soulful trio is Jessica, who is an apprehensive and insightful young college student whom virgin Warren would like to bed. The two men, with their drug-blown minds, try to think of schemes to replace the money Warren has already spent.

The drama is a living photograph of the moment between pubescence and adulthood of these three people. These sophisticated teenagers are armed only with the ideology that they acquired and developed from their liberal-minded parents. To make matters worse, they are at the beginning of the Reagan era when liberalism is dying out. As Jessica says "Ronald Reagan is President of the United States, I mean, how embarrassing is that?"

Kenneth Lonergan has an incisive ear for the rhythms of contemporary speech. He sprinkles the speeches of the teenagers with the words "like", "totally", and "whatever" in many of the sentences. There are speeches that are grammatically challenged, such as when Jessica talks about Warren's future and she says, "What you're like now has nothing to do with what you're gonna be like. Like, right now you're all this rich little pot-smoking burnout rebel, but then years from now you're gonna be like a plastic surgeon reminiscing about how you used to be."

The three actors do full justice to their parts. Each one is outstanding in his or her own right. Christian Haynes plays the despondent Warren. He manages to mask his good looks and his fundamental intelligence to become a believable uncoordinated, accident-prone loser. He is the typical "dork" of the '80s. He will do anything to fit in, even take the insults and put-downs of his hero, Dennis.

Paul D'Addario, the director, has taken over the the role of Dennis (unfortunately, the original actor Elijah Berlow had a serious auto-pedestrian accident two weeks into the run, suffering major injuries to his legs). Paul is one of the most vibrant actors in the Bay Area, and he is a staple of the Actors Theatre. He is exceptional as the manipulative drug-dealer and best friend of Warren. He captures the superficial cool of the character. With friends like Dennis, Warren does not need enemies.

Lauren English is extraordinary as Jessica. She makes the most of her part and she has the best lines when talking about life in general. She is brassy and funny and her interchanges with Warren are very touching.

Paul D'Addario's direction is fast and completely on the mark. There is never a dull moment in the two hour, fifteen minute drama. The set is aptly cluttered and messy and it looks like a typical walkup apartment on the west side of Manhattan.

Once again the Actors Theatre of San Francisco has proven to be one of the best theater groups in the Bay Area. This Is Our Youth closed on February 23.

The next production will be the west coast premier of Nicky Silver's The Altruists followed by the west coast premier of Keith Phillips The World of Crozuete Championship of 1959 and then a revival of a Tennessee Williams's classic that will be announced later. The theatre is located at 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. For ticket information, call (415)296-9179 or visit www.actorstheatresf.org.


Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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