Sunday, May 11, 2003

Actors need to dig deeper in 'Our Youth'

Theater review

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It's easy to see why Know Tribe was attracted to This Is Our Youth, now playing in a short, two-weekend run at Gabriel's Corner.

Though it's set in the Reagan era, writer Kenneth Lonergan's play nevertheless has timely and pertinent observations about children of a fast-tracking, moneyed class who have been given all the advantages but love and attention.

Youth follows a pair of college-age slackers. Dennis (Jack Lazzaro) sees himself as a sharp man of business, providing his suburban pals with recreational drugs and the kind of dangerous action from which their rich parents can extract them (if they notice), should the thrill ride get a little too real.

Warren (Eric Yellin) is your basic mess, a nerdy but sweet guy whose precious possessions include '60s plastic toys, albums and even a toaster.

When Warren is thrown out of his wealthy but abusive (and possible criminal) father's house, he steals $15,000 in cash and lands on Dennis' door.

Dennis arrives at a scheme that will get them drugs, the girl of Warren's dreams - and a profit! Of course, it all goes awry.

Lonergan has a great ear, and Youth makes you feel like you're eavesdropping on real teenagers. Of course, what they say, what they don't say and what's on their minds really are the heart of the matter.

A lot of the burden of discovery goes to the production, because Lonergan is something of a slacker himself in his storytelling style.

At Know, Youth feels like an extended episode of a slacker Seinfeld, a play about nothing.

I suspect Lazzaro and Yellin (both University of Cincinnati drama students) didn't have to reach too far for the superficial aspects of Dennis and Warren.

The advantage is at the most basic level: They're smooth, particularly Yellin. But that's only the starting point. Director Kevin Barry doesn't send them digging deep enough.

Dennis is a victim of big mood swings. Is he bipolar? Is it the drugs? Is it a John Malkovich fixation? The performance needs to be both bigger and more focused to get more laughs and pathos.

Barry shows great attention to detail (something it would be great to see more of in Know productions), but a point is made in the script that Dennis is no friend to soap. Lazzaro looks (and acts) fresh-scrubbed.

Yellin and A. Devney Sell as his suspicious love interest are too stilted, even less comfortable together than they should be.

This Is Our Youth, 8 p.m. today, Monday and Thursday-Saturday, Gabriel's Corner, Sycamore at Liberty, 300-5669.

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