Kenneth Lonnergan’s This Is Our Youth is set in 1982. At that time, the author was 19 years old—the same age of one of the characters. This Is Our Youth may or may not be based on the author’s life, but the play has the ring of lived experience in the excellent production at Saint Louis University.
The action takes place in 22-year-old Dennis Ziegler’s small apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. His friend Warren Straub shows up a little after midnight—unexpected and in need of a place to stay. Warren’s wealthy father has thrown his son out of the house. As a parting shot, 19-year-old Warren walked away with $15,000, the proceeds of a business deal between his father and shady associates.
Fearing reprisals, Dennis persuades Warren to return the stolen cash, even though some of it is already gone. The two youths plan a drug deal to make up the shortfall, but staying on task is not easy for either one of them.
One of the distractions for Warren is Jessica Goldman, a friend of Dennis’s girlfriend, Valerie. Jessica comes up to the apartment after Dennis and Valerie have left to buy the drugs.
The strength of both the play and the SLU production is the development of character through the dialogue. Trevor Jones’s Dennis is filled with the hollow bravado of an insecure person who bullies others into feeding his ego. Andre Eslamian invests Warren with neediness that accounts for his acceptance of Dennis’s abuse. Margaret London Kimble imbues Jessica with a mercurial allure that keeps Warren off-balance.
The characters fly into a rage at the least provocation and back off just as quickly. Under Tom Martin’s unerring direction, the SLU actors go after one another viciously and move on convincingly at the end of an attack as if nothing had happened.
The intimacy of the Mark Wilson Studio Theatre is well suited to the play. In Joseph Stafford scenic design, Warren’ stark efficiency apartment reflects the emptiness of the characters’ lives. Lou Bird’s costumes evince the gulf in fashion sense between Jessica and the men. Michael Musgrave-Perkins designed the helpful sound. Delaney Piggins’ presence as intimacy coordinator lends reassurance to the scenes that involve touch.
The play ends with notable effects in Seth Jackson’s lighting.
Photo by Peter Wochniak of ProPhotoSTL