MUST SEEREVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

This Is Our Youth


By Kenneth Lonergansteppenwolf theatre

Directed by Anna D. Shapiro

At Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, Chicago

“Ronald Reagan is President of the United States, I mean, how embarrassing is that?”

—Jessica from This Is Our Youth

Darkly funny coming of age story deeply profound on many levels

Set in the 1982 in a Manhattan studio, This Is Our Youth by Kenneth Lonergan now playing in a pre-Broadway production at Steppenwolf theatre is a comedy/drama by screenwriter Kenneth Longeran (Analyze This ,  You Can Count on Me & Lobby Hero). Longeran has an ear for contemporary dialogue—vernacular “it’s like, totally, totally funny, like it stays with you” are used generously by the three 19-21 year olds. This show is surprisingly funny.

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Set in Reagan Era money grubbing New York, three college-age New Yorkers from wealthy Jewish families live in self-induced doped-up squalor. Dennis (Kieran Culkin), a too-cool small-time drug dealer, Warren (Michael Cera), a hero-worshiping codependent, and Jessica (Tavi Gevinson), a mixed-up prep school girl. When Warren steals $15,000 cash from his father, he decides to take Jessica out for a night of seduction, while Dennis wants to finance a larger drug deal with the money.

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Longeran admits the plot came from his own experience as a hedonistic young rich kid. His dialogue and portrayal of the 19-year olds was distinctly told from the male point of view—it’s like having a video player in an 80’s walk-up yet the content still resonates.  The period after high school and before one enters into the adult world is the scariest, most contradictory and dangerous time for emerging youths. Longeran accurately has the guys slant on this anxious, contradictory period.

We meet Dennis, played with strong emotions with a manic command by the Kieran Culkin, the loud-mouth, vane ‘wheeler-deal’ who brags about his confident command of his world. Culkin is charming, obnoxious, yet vulnerable. His act two “high on fear” scene was a sustained emotional journey bordering on panic—fine work. Tavi Gevinson, as Jessica, combined little girl shyness with understated sensuality as she slowly warms to Warren’s advances. Gevinson captures the mysterious elements men find elusive in women. Michael Cerai’s Warren depicted the insecurity of teens as his life seems full of uncertainties and insecurities. Accurately, Warren is fixed on the two necessities of teen life—getting high and getting laid! Cera has Warren’s victim manner yet he sprinkles him with charm, an innocent honesty as he exudes basic goodness.

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Jessica’s insightful look at Warren sums up the play: “What you’re like now has nothing to do with what you’re gonna be like. Like, right now you’re all this rich little pot-smoking burnout rebel, but then years from now you’re gonna be like a plastic surgeon reminiscing about how you used to be.”
Act two contains powerful insights that crush the immortality beliefs of teens as fear of the future rocks home to Dennis. The role of friendship between the boys necessitates an implied acceptance that gets strained here. I liked the work of all three players whose honesty and naturalism rings true. Cera’s underplaying of the nerd boy garnered many laughs. This Is Our Youth is an excellent ‘date play’ that will relate to the 20’something crowd filled with raw humor and truth. There’s a scary warning in act two that negates the pleasures of drug use shown in earlier scenes. A good choice for Steppenwolf  Theatre.  this ‘coming of age’ urban tale. I’d take the teens in your life to see this resonant play.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date  Reviewed: June 18, 2014

For more info checkout the This Is Our Youth page at

At Steppenwolf Theatre’s Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL,  call 312-335-1650,, tickets $20- $82 with some $15 student tickets, Tuesdays thur Sundays at 7:30 pm, matinees 3 pm on Saturdays & Sundays, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through July 27, 2014

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