The late Spy magazine once put out the 'novel-o-matic,' a handy device for aspiring scribes hoping to cash in on the Jay McInerney and Brett Easton Ellis schools of literature. Playwright Kenneth Lonergan must have stashed one away for future reference. Set in 1982, Lonergan's 1996 play, 'This Is Our Youth', has all the essential elements of '80s hipster anomie mocked by the humor mag—namely, drugged-out directionless post-collegiates resentful of their parents (even when Mom and Dad pay the rent on their grungy flat). Lonergan helpfully sets up a tidy dichotomy between the two young men whose relationship forms the central arc of the play.
Dennis (Jon Barinholtz) the would-be man of business (that is, a petty drug dealer) is the child of an artist and an idealistic social worker, while Warren (Rob Belushi, son of Jim), the child of “arguably the most dangerous lingerie manufacturer in the world,” carries around a suitcase full of collectibles, worth more to him in sentimental value than in cash potential.
There's a girl in the picture, too, but thankfully Lonergan doesn't use aspiring fashion designer Jessica as a sexual wedge between the male protagonists. Given the schematic nature of the rest of the script, the best thing one can do is cast it well. And here's where Matt Miller's staging for Pine Box Theatre Company shines. Barinholtz and Belushi each have extensive improv experience, and it shows in the careful but unfussy way they listen and honestly react to each other. Anne Adams' Jessica is appealing—she's the pretty girl who hasn't quite figured out how to gird her emotions in the armor of “yeah man, whatever.” The fumbling romantic scene between Jessica and Warren is beguiling. Even though the script feels hoary and contrived, it's a pleasure to see a trio of performances so fresh, sharp, and thoroughly engaging.