The Young and the Reckless

14Aug13

JImiAlexSeatedOutCouch_0471Kenneth Lonergan’s “This Is Our Youth,” currently on stage the Gloucester Stage Company, paints a compelling, passionate and funny – if not pretty – picture of disaffected upper-class youth in Manhattan’s Upper West Side in 1982. I found myself wondering if the play’s title was intended as an observer’s commentary about the play’s twenty something characters or a lament of the characters about themselves.

It’s likely both.

We first meet Dennis Ziegler (played by Jimi Stanton) in the apartment that mommy and daddy are subsidizing just to get him out of their house. It’s not hard to see why his famous artist dad and social worker mom don’t want him around. Dennis is brash, obnoxious, drug-dealing and utterly self-centered jerk who uses intimidation to get the best of everyone in his sphere.

Set designer Jenna McFarland Lord captures the 1980s bachelor pad, complete with bean-bag chair, turntable and a box spring in the corner topped by a mattress with the fitted sheet pulled off of one of the corners.

JimiAlexFacingeachotehr_9561Enter Dennis’s friend, Warren Straub (Alex Pollock). Warren has just been kicked out of his wealthy (if slightly shady) businessman father’s house for smoking pot constantly. On his way out, he stole $15,000 in cash (“the proceeds of my unhappy childhood”) from a locked briefcase in his father’s bedroom.

He may be a stoner and a thief, but unlike Dennis, Warren doesn’t have a mean streak. So Dennis immediately lets loose on Warren, informing him that he’s not welcome to stay with him and reminding him that he is a sniveling, annoying and obnoxious loser who no one wants to be around, least of all women.

Dennis’s girlfriend broke up with him the night before (I wonder why), but she soon phones and after the requisite abuse from Dennis they make up and she agrees to come over with her friend Jessica (Amanda Collins), who Warren just happens to have a big crush on.

Ever the manipulator, Dennis gets Warren to agree to give him enough cash for cocaine and champagne with which to entertain and seduce their female companions in exchange for letting him crash for a few days. They plan to set aside enough of the coke to sell at a profit to replace whatever they’ve spent of the $15,000 so Warren can return it before his father knows it’s missing and they can both avoid the beating that they now realize will surely befall them at the hands of dad’s shady associates.

AmandaAlexDance_9819Warren and Jessica wind up in the in the apartment alone as Dennis and his girlfriend go to make the drug deal. They smoke some pot, have a philosophical discussion and he shows her his suitcase full of collectible toy memorabilia. They’re soon dancing to Warren’s rare 1960’s LPs and one thing, as they say, leads to another.

Director Lewis D. Wheeler’s casting could hardly be better. Stanton’s tough-guy looks make him a natural for the peacocking, bad-ass Dennis. You may remember Stanton from last summer’s GSC production 9 Circles, when he played a disgraced Iraq War vet.

Amanda Collins’ Jessica is a tenuous blend of youthful impulsiveness and emerging maturity. Of the three, Jessica exhibits the greatest potential for self-awareness when she observes that nothing they are experiencing now will matter in a few years when they will be older and much different people.

Alex Pollock plays Warren with a lilting gait and downcast eyes that never seem to fully open. His body language is that of a guy whose desperation to look cool can’t quite mask the fact that his self-esteem is shot.

Warren carries around in a suitcase his collection of toy memorabilia from bygone eras, which says something positive about the human desire to value and honor the relics of the past. It also says something about the timelessness of the play. The toys may change, but the struggles of adolescence and maturity are eternal.

This Is Our Youth runs through August 25 at Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main Street, Gloucester, MA. Show times are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Saturday matinees at 3 p.m.; and Sunday performances at 4 p.m. For reservations and further information, visit gloucesterstage.com/ or phone 978-281-4433.

[This Is Our Youth, by Kenneth Lonergan. Directed by Lewis D. Wheeler. Set Design, Jenna McFarland Lord. Costume Design, Gail Astrid Buckley. Lighting Design, John Malinowski. Production Stage Manager, Marsha Smith. Featuring Amanda Collins, Alex Pollock and Jimi Stanton.]

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