There’s nothing funny about drugs, robbery, and running away. At least not if you had engaged in all these and are now looking at your transgressions from a comfortable distance. Kenneth Lonergan’s This is Our Youth seems to be that retrospective narrative of a time long gone and one could no longer imagine returning to, except to laugh at it.
Twenty-something Dennis Ziegler is lounging about in his Manhattan apartment (which is paid for by his parents) when his almost-twenty friend Warren Straub drops by with his backpack and suitcase. Warren ran away after a fight with his dad, and before leaving had stolen $15,000 from him. Together the two friends face a huge problem: how to spend the money.
If the premise sounds exaggerated, like a springboard for a wild adventure, it isn’t. Dennis and Warren are no ordinary kids looking for excitement, they are privileged kids who have so much that they don’t know what to do with it.
Red Turnip Theater’s staging of Lonergan’s critically acclaimed play is a breather from the nostalgia- and pop culture-obsessed productions we’ve been seeing for a while. The play, though set in the ’80s and in parts driven by music, banks on neither nostalgia nor pop culture references to draw easy laughs and build connection with the audience.
Instead, it presents painfully familiar pot-smoking characters. Dennis (Jef Flores) is the short-fused, self-assured guy, who has an opinion on everything and is convinced of their accuracy. On the other hand, Warren (Nicco Manalo), though smart enough, always second-guesses himself and looks to Dennis for guidance. A third character is Warren’s object of desire, Jessica (Cindy Lopez), who is also sharp but fragile.
Red Turnip shuts the audience up in a room with these three. And by room we mean an 80-seater A Space Gallery in Makati, where people watch the play sitting on bean bags, close enough to see the nerves on Dennis’ neck whenever he screams (which is often), the twitching of Warren’s fingers, and the eyes of Jessica welling with tears.
It’s like being a fourth character, only invisible and mute. You feel helpless when Dennis and Warren get in a row and throw things in the apartment. And when Dennis bangs the rotary phone down, you want to shout, “Spare the poor phone!” In this set up, director Topper Fabregas succeeds in bringing the audience not back in time but in the moment with the characters.
And the source of their conflicts? Nothing earth-shaking: fighting with their parents, getting laid, figuring whether or not they’re in a relationship, running out of pot, finding better pot. It’s so trivial it’s funny — but not to them, not at that age where every movement is felt with intensity and every thought is taken seriously.
This is Our Youth returns this weekend (Nov. 20 – 22) at the A Space Gallery for five more shows. Tickets are priced at P900 and comes with a free drink, which you may bring inside the theater.