Xavier University’s Theatre program is only a few years old now. But despite its relative infancy they haven’t been shied away from mature material. Musicals like SPRING AWAKENING, AVENUE Q, and the upcoming RENT all tackle some tough subject matter in their own unique ways. And the plays that Director of Theatre Stephen Skiles have chosen – new works like BLACK FLY SPRING and FROM WHITE PLAINS – have all been thought provoking, as well.
But the coup de grâce – so far, anyway – has to be the current production on the Gallagher Theater stage.
THIS IS OUR YOUTH is an intense piece. The play itself is so full of long, elaborate, and mind-blowing monologues it’s a wonder that any actor could remember them. And there is a lot of frank discussion about drugs, sex, and what it is to be a young person in 1982. It’s a lot and it challenges many ideas and conventions.
But mostly it challenges us to think about relationships, how we talk to one another, and how we value ourselves. It’s mature, alright.
Dennis (Mac Blais) is bombastic, overly confident, and fairly abusive to his awkward best friend, Warren (Griff Bludworth) especially when he finds out that Warren has stolen some money from his father’s briefcase. What feels like the setup to a madcap comedy, though, takes a turn into dark character study. Soon (but not soon enough) we meet Jessica (Tatum Hunter). She is a friend of Dennis’s girlfriend. Oh, and Warren has a crush on her.
It’s easy to see why as she expounds her philosophy on politics, personality, and life in general. He disagrees vehemently with her opinions but remains utterly taken by her. She warms up to him pretty fast, too.
The play is not heavy on plot; in fact there are several times where playwright Kenneth Lonergan could have taken the story forward but chooses instead to focus on the people on stage. It’s a definite choice and one that mostly pans out. Especially in the hands of these terrific young actors and their director, Ed Stern.
Stern, the previous Artistic Director of the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, guest directs Blais, Bludworth, and Hunter and they are all better for it. Talented on their own, the direction brings out the best in all three of them by focusing on their strengths. Hunter, specifically, appears supremely confident on stage. It’s a shame she has the least to do based on the script. She’s poised, relaxed, and authentic and her “Jessica” is by far the best developed character of the three.
Blais, who I predict will have a very successful career, continues to grow and find his voice and natural rhythm and cadence as he takes on new characters every semester. And Bludworth, who’s stage presence is typically gawky and awkward, is completely in his element as the very sweet and backwards “Warren.” If you saw his “Moritz Stieful” in SPRING AWAKENING last spring, you saw a glimpse of his powerful vulnerability. In this play, he will absolutely break your heart.
As usual, the set is spectacular. Joe Beumer’s attention to detail as well as the depth and scale of the New York City apartment is stunning. Aided by technical director, Joe Leonard, the entire support team gives the actors a perfect playground for their performances.
The play is a little long and there were times towards the end of Act Two where I began to drift. But then, just as I was getting restless, the two male characters shared a moment so tender that it brought me to tears. And that’s when I decided that Lonergan might just be a genius. And perhaps Ed Stern is, too.
THIS IS OUR YOUTH is not for young audiences; but if you like interesting, thought-provoking, and well acted theatre . . . then it is one for you.
THIS IS OUR YOUTH runs through Sunday afternoon at Xavier University. Click here for more details.