Our youth is like a sudden rain. Even though we could be sick after dancing in it, we would still want to do that again. Everybody all has that coming-of-age story, the time when we all want to do something odd and crazy, the time when everyone enjoys breaking the rules and doing silly things. However, nothing lasts forever, and even our youth has to grow up. That’s why as I watched the play “This Is Our Youth”, written by Kenneth Lonergan, I saw myself it in, and I understood what would make us the way we are today: Adolescent.
I chose to go to see the play on a Friday night at the Morrison Center, and to be more specific, it was April 8th, since I would never study anything at this time of the week anyway, therefore, the best option was to watch this play and to start writing something about it. I did not expect anything before coming to the theatre since I hadn’t read anything relating to the play at that time and I did not even know what the play was about; however, I actually enjoyed watching it more than I expected. “This is Our Youth” is a play by American dramatist and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan. As being stated by the director of the “This Is Our Youth” version that I watched, the play “follows 48 hours in the life of three teenagers in New York City in the early 1980s” (Tracy Sunderland). And at first, I thought it must have something to do with music and passion, since it took place in New York and it was in the early 1980s. But I was wrong; nevertheless, I’m glad that I was wrong.
“This Is Our Youth” can be considered as a Realism play that associated with the modern theatre genre as it focuses on bringing a greater fidelity of real life to the performance and we, the audience, individually can relate to the characters and the situations occurred in the play. After all, most of us are normal human beings, we will be more likely to be emotionally connected with other normal human beings. For me personally, I like when a play aims to describe on everyday drama with ordinary speech, ordinary people and ordinary settings so much more than seeing kings, queens and pirates. “This Is Our Youth” takes place in Dennis Ziegler’s apartment in New York. Dennis’s friend, Warren Straub, has just been kicked out of his house and stolen $15,000 from his abusive father, comes to Dennis’s place and wants to do something with a part of the money before giving it back to his dad. Dennis spends some of the money on cocaine and then hopes to sell it to a friend for much more so that Warren can have the whole $15000 back. Jessica Goldman, a charming fashion student, comes over and Warren hopes that he can use the money to get her into a relationship.
While it seems that this is not something we would regular see in our daily life since we wouldn’t steal money and do drugs that often, it connects to the theme of the play: those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up, those time when we have “no idea what we’re doing with our life” and we tend to make the most stupid decisions possible. The action that carries the play forward can be viewed by this particular questions: What would Warren do with the money? In fact, because of the money, Dennis and Warren purchased drugs, Warren got to hang out with Jessica, Warren had to sell all of his priceless collection in order to get the money he spent back and so much more. Everything in the play is governed by this $15000 and how they managed to deal with what they have spent. But then again, the action is carried by the money, but it is the character’s behavior and attitude toward money that make “This Is Our Youth” terribly beautiful and interesting to watch.
I found myself laughing and worrying the whole time as I was wondering what would happen to Warren, yes, to Warren specifically. However, before going deeper into what I really think about Warren, I love the undeniably charming collaboration between three actors. David Kepner (Dennis Ziegler), David Weatherby (Warren Straub) and Quinn Donaldson (Jessica Goldman) together make me believe that the characters they were playing actually existed. I think it has a lot to do with the physical movements they made on stage: they were fighting, making out and yelling at each other all the time. It is more of me watching my friends figuring out their lives than experiencing a play. The word choice they used to communicate is also very relatable since it was the combination of regular dialogues and slangs and it was certainly something I can hear daily. For a lot of people who haven’t watched the play, they might think that why would they go see something they could find anywhere on the street, with three people arguing about their life styles. However, I think the fact that the actors can portrait real emotions is something I appreciate very much, since it shows that they actually live in that moment with the characters, just to bring us a lively plot-less play. Not only they got me hooked into the characters’ emotions, they also led me to a stage that I started to have feeling for them.
And yes, I’m referring to Warren only in this circumstance. Dennis and Jessica don’t give me the vibes of getting to know more about them; I guess it is mostly because of their personalities in the play. I don’t want to know about a guy who is emotionally damaged and a girl who is overly exposed to anxiousness. But, again, Warren is another story. Warren is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex and drugs; when all one requires is that perfect drug on that perfect night to feel “infinite”. Therefore, Warren is caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. What amazes me the most is that after that 48 hours, he finds out that he has to live his life differently. His heart is still yearning for a better life, a better half, and a better version of himself in the future even though he has experienced life in a very messy way. Isn’t it what adolescent is about? I believe that Warren will look back one day and be thankful for all the terrible things he has done that witness his path of growing up and a younger version of himself. I know to a certain point, Warren is a little bit over-portrait since in the end “This Is Our Youth” is still a play; however, we, the audience, cannot deny that we also did a lot silly things at that time, one way or another. So yes, Warren, it is never too late to live your life again.
Beside being able to see Warren growing up through each scene, I got to see New York in a box. To be honest, I have never been to New York. So, it may be hard to believe if I say I love the set design because it gives me the feeling of New York. But the little apartment that Dennis owns with the wall full of pictures about his life, the drum set and the messy bed sheet tells me so much about the time and the location of the play and the person who lives in it. The apartment itself can spirit me back to those days in the early 1980s with all the furniture that you can hardly find anywhere in today’s apartments; thus, it gives me the feeling of an actual apartment in New York at that time and I think it is very important to give the audience this feeling as this is a realism play. But what I like most about this set is that it shows me exactly how a young guy’s apartment would look like. The apartment can be as messy as the owner wants, not much of decoration since Dennis is a guy, and guys usually don’t like decorating their room that much. Nevertheless, from the room, we can see that Dennis likes to listen to music, with his music player, a lot of music records and his drum set and he does care about the people that he loves, with a wall full of pictures. While I got to know more about Warren through his actions, I knew Dennis mostly because of his apartment and what he reacted to everything in it. The whole play was packed in this room, but I did not get tired of the set because they used the space really smart. I can still imagine whenever Dennis got mad at Warren, he would throw things around, he would kick anything around him; or when Warren was upset, he would smoke near the window or run around the house unconsciously; or when Warren and Jessica were flirting with all the music records that Warren owned. This unchanged set delivers a consistent feeling and expectation for the audience, let us witness the change of actions and feelings through time of the characters and shows us how everyone has grown. In the end, Warren and Dennis, in the same apartment, were playing drum together and looking forward to their brighter future, show the comparison with the young and wild version of them at the beginning when Dennis was yelling at Warren for touching the drum set.
Thus, the more I enjoy the set design choice that they have, the less I care about the characters’ costumes. Once again, all the characters were dressed up nice and suitable for the time being. However, I think I don’t actually pay attention to this specific part because they all look really normal, nothing pops out. And this is actually not a bad thing at all. Considering all the aspects of this play, the clothes choice that they have represents what the author wants to express: ordinary people with ordinary life. The author and the director probably want the audience to focus more on the characters themselves as normal human beings, that’s why they have made those choices of the costume design, to make it as simple as possible. Therefore, I don’t get distracted while watching the play since there is nothing super colorful or special about the costumes and I can actually concentrate on what the characters want to express in person. And I don’t mean that colorful costumes are unacceptable because I know there are plays that focus a lot on the costumes design as it speaks for their personality and the choices they make; however, in this play, all the characters are described as normal people so they wear normal clothes and deliver that vibe of realism. After all, what matters most is we as the audience understand Dennis, Warren and Jessica as any other people we can meet anywhere and accept them and follow them as the play goes by.
And I don’t know whether this is a thing with realism style or not, but I have noticed that not only the costumes design was simple but also the lighting design. For the whole play, I can see that there was only one main lighting choice and it was the bright yellow light that we could see in mostly every apartment. The lighting design that they make adds up to the feeling that the set is actually an apartment that you can see anywhere in New York. More importantly, with the constancy in providing lighting for all the character and also with the same kind of lighting, it shows that this play is not just a play that has a main character since everyone in this play receives the same lighting choice to express themselves. There is no close-up, no special lighting on anyone as three characters are equally reserved a specific part of the play and there is no focus on anyone at anytime since comparing to real life situation, a person’s life won’t stop just because somebody is having a hard time. I don’t know if that is what they are trying to communicate through their lighting design or not, but I enjoy seeing every character sharing the same spotlight and expressing their emotions together with other characters’ reactions.
“This Is Our Youth” ends with a smile on Dennis and Warren’s face and also makes me feel that I did not spend two hours for nothing. The play is plot-less, there is hardly any climax or any solution to whatever that happened in that two hours, however, it touches upon so many different feelings, more than anything I would expect. The journey from darkness to lightness may sound a little sorrowful, since after all, we still don’t know what Warren would do with all the money he had spent, but before we walk out of the theatre, “This Is Our Youth” has already been an incredible adventure for all of us, so flutter, so moving and so real that we can all see ourselves in it. In the end, it’s not about how they would end up anymore. It’s about understanding, loving and forgiving to one of those adulthood moments that we might never have again. And for those of you who haven’t seen it, have you ever asked yourself what if you could live your youth all over again? I believe to a certain point, we all wish we could live in that moment one more time, especially to those who figure out that everybody looks down on them, to those who feed themselves with the feeling of how it used to be in the past, or to those who just try to survive through everyday worries. However, if you had the opportunity to live your life all over, would you do the same silly things you used to do? Would you be the same person if you changed the way you act long ago? And would you be willing to look at all the characters in “This Is Our Youth” and travel back in time just for once? Would you or wouldn’t you?