All three stars – Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and the 18-year-old fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson – are making their Broadway debuts, as is playwright Kenneth Lonergan, in the revival of “This Is Our Youth,” opening tonight directed by Anna D. Shapiro at the Cort Theater through January 4.
When the play was first produced, Off-Broadway in 1996, it was already an exercise in slacker nostalgia. Taking place in an apartment on the Upper West Side in 1982, it focuses on hip Dennis, nerd Warren, who has just stolen $15,000 from his abusive father, and Jessica, the fashion student Warren hopes to seduce. When the revival ran at Steppenwolf in Chicago this summer, Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones called it a shrewdly cast, “strikingly funny and textured production,” but wondered how it would play in the less intimate setting of a Broadway house.
What do the New York critics think of it?
Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: The beauty and wonder of Lonergan’s play is that it depicts with unblinking specificity a group of foul-mouthed, pot-smoking, hyper-articulate but clueless rich kids on the Upper West Side in 1982. But the playwright somehow brings us inside those characters, with lots of humor and little judgment, so that the audience can freely identify with them – not “What have our youth come to?” but “Yeah, I’ve been there.” Director Anne D. Shapiro, who won a Tony for “August: Osage County,” and did wonders with “The Motherfucker with the Hat,” here again teams up with scenic designer Todd Rosenthal to present a production of this three-character play suitable for an 1,100-seat Broadway house like the Cort, with larger positive results….As Dennis, Culkin delivers striking arias of bullying and bravado that mask the vulnerabilities he shares with his cowed pal. It is a performance that makes you hope he will return (again and again) to the theater.
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Ben Brantley, New York Times: “The acrobatics being performed in Anna D. Shapiro’s sensational, kinetically charged revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s “This Is Our Youth,”which opened on Thursday night in a marijuana haze at the Cort Theater, aren’t anything like those you’d find at the Cirque du Soleil. But they’re every bit as compelling, and probably (painfully) a whole lot closer to your own experience….[The director] knows how to scale up intimate confrontations to Broadway dimensions without losing nuance. Under her direction, “Youth” becomes more explosively physical than I recalled it, a ballet of gracefully clumsy collisions.”
Linda Winer, Newsday: “Thanks to the playwright’s meticulously hand-picked insights and Anna D. Shapiro’s tight yet seemingly easygoing direction, we somehow feel we have spent a couple of amusing and ultimately painful hours with an entire world of offstage parents, drug dealers and friends of friends….Ultimately, each of the [three] lost children has a monologue that asks questions so interesting that we wish we could watch them grow up.”
Mark Kennedy Associated Press: “….directed by Anna D. Shapiro, who knows her way around onstage arguments (“August: Osage County”) and movie stars (James Franco in “Of Mice and Men”). She keeps this revival fresh and electric, crackling with energy even as the stoned get more stoned.…Cera’s Warren is gloriously unpolished, a guy with his hand permanently stuffed into a pants pocket and a collection of toy memorabilia. He moves jerkily, as if he’s uncomfortable in his own skin…Culkin, with his flippy haircut and polo shirt, is smarmy ’80s perfection….Gevinson walks into this drug-fueled morass with an innocence, integrity and sincerity that’s refreshing.”
David Cote, Time Out New York: “The word plot should be used loosely. As always with Lonergan, the murky-jerky inner worlds of his articulate, life-stalled characters drive the action….Anna D. Shapiro’s clear-eyed and tight staging brings out earnest, honest performances from the young trio. Cera’s facial deadpan and vocal drone have the curious effect of deepening, not lessening, our sympathy for Warren. Culkin gets to shine in the flashier role, and Gevinson toggles amusingly between prim ingenue and panicked urbanite. They’re nice kids; I think they’ve got a bright future ahead of them.”
Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: B+ “Culkin is sensational as Dennis, a talkative schemer whose occasional stumbles in no way impede his innate sense of self-confidence. Cera is nearly as strong as Warren, a willfully quirky boy who collects action figures and vintage toasters and who endures Dennis’ poetic rants of invective against him like a pound puppy who craves attention no matter what form it takes….At 18, Gevinson is closer to her character’s age than her castmates—but she can seem less at ease on stage for reasons that have nothing to do with Jessica’s natural discomfort hanging out in a strange apartment with a virtual stranger”
Robert Kahn, WNBC:” In spite of it all, I walked out of the two-acter curiously unfulfilled. The play rarely feels relatable, and I’m afraid it’s mostly an issue with Cera, the talented “Juno” and “Superbad” star who here steps into a role quite similar to that of George Michael, the awkward man-boy he played on “Arrested Development.” That’s the rub—I think Warren would be better cast with an actor who’s got more range….This Is Our Youth” comes to life whenever Culkin—31, but playing a character a decade younger—is on stage.”
Robert Hofler The Wrap: “How much does Judd Apatow owe to Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 play, “This Is Our Youth”…The play has so many elements that were to become Apatow hallmarks: the awkward teenage sex (“Freaks and Geeks”), the vintage toy collection (“The 40 Year-Old Virgin”), the slacker abode (“Knocked Up”), and, of course, the drugs (all of the above). Lonergan was there first to document that odd, unnamed territory between school and a real life, which for his 25-year-old-ish character Dennis (Kieran Culkin in a Broadway debut that’s a career breakthrough) may never arrive despite such remarkable potential….”
Matt Windman, AM New York: “Chekhov meets Gossip Girl…There’s no escaping the fact that Cera is giving a performance that closely mirrors his nervous nice guy persona from “Arrested Development” and “Superbad.” Even so, it suits his character and he brings plenty of laughs. The 18-year-old Gevinson, who has terrific rapport with Cera, vigorously conveys Jessica’s suspicious nature. Culkin displays greater range as Dennis, who embodies cocky 1980s materialism, seeing himself as an entrepreneur.”