this is our youth

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

01/03/2008 - 21/03/2008

Production Details

this is our youth is a fast paced modern comedy about the waste of rich bored youth in Reagan Era America – 3 teens in 1 room for 48 hours with $15000 and 0 scruples!

this is our youth takes place in cool trust fund baby, Dennis Ziegler’s apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in March 1982. Dennis’ awkward friend, Warren, drops by after being kicked out of home with a suitcase packed with $15,000 stolen from his abusive lingerie-tycoon father.

Dennis, the more manipulative and domineering of the two, hatches a plan – spending some of the money on cocaine, hoping to sell it to a friend of his for much more. When the object of Warren’s affection, the gorgeous Jessica Goldman, arrives, things really get complicated.

this is our youth is a funny clever fast paced black comedy that explores the timeless issues of lost adolescence and maturity as well as the Reagan Era in which it takes place – where power and greed are replacing the 1960s-style liberalism the characters were brought up to believe in.

Funny, painful, and compassionate, this is our youth is a living snapshot of the moment between adolescence and adulthood.

"This is quite simply, a sterling example of why we keep going… this is our youth is as good as theatre gets." The New York Daily News 

Martyn Wood:  Dennis Ziegler
Allan Henry:  Warren Straub
Rachel Forman:  Jessica Goldman

Brian King:  Set Design
Jennifer Lal:  Lighting Design
Patrick Davies:  Stage Manager/Tech Operator
Brianne Kerr:  Publicity
Gareth Williams:  Publicity Design
Rob Larsen & John Hodgkins:  Set Construction 

2 hrs, incl. interval

High Octane Pace

Review by Lynn Freeman 12th Mar 2008

The 80s – remember them? Bad hair, bad music and greed was rampant.  American writer Kenneth Lonergan throws three volatile and fragile young people into a room and fuels them with drugs, alcohol and resentment at their parent’s attitudes and mistakes. 

Dennis (Martyn Wood) is on his own (but supported by his parents) and making a living by buying and selling anything he can get his hands on, mainly drugs.  Warren (Allan Henry) has stolen thousands from his wealthy and dangerous lingerie manufacturing father, while Jessica (Rachel Forman) just wants genuine love and tenderness in a harsh world.  She may find it with Warren, who’s attracted to her, but they’re both such screw ups.  

This is a highly charged script which demands a high octane pace, and Rachel More has her cast deliver just that.  You have to care for these crazy young people, and you do, despite their selfishness and course for self-destruction. 

This is more of a credit to the director and cast than to Lonergan, who does tend to rave in his script as if he is using the play to get something off his chest.  This slows down the first half in particular.


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Lifestyles of the rich and idle

Review by John Smythe 05th Mar 2008

This particular group of three Reagan-era American youths – Upper West Side Manhattanites, ‘college’-age but vocationally challenged – are the kind of ‘cream’ that coagulates above the ordinary folk in all their rich, fat and bad-for-everyone glory. Boy can they go off.

They have too much money and too much time on their never-done-a-day’s-real-work hands. Their brain-vaults of knowledge burst at the seams in inverse proportion to their wisdom. They may know, and bicker about, the cost of some things but they know the value of nothing. In fact they are so remote from the ‘real world’, their capacity to develop any coherent value systems is zilch.

But I generalise. To be fair, most of the above is true of ‘trust fund baby’ Dennis Ziegler, an odious control-freak creep with delusions of grandeur and a short-fused blistering temper he blames on his socialite/charity-supporting mother. You’ve guessed it: he’s Jewish, and so, presumably, is Bronx-born playwright Kenneth Lonergan, hence he’s allowed to write lines like, "Don’t ever try to out-Jew me, man!" when it comes to wheeling and dealing. Martyn Woods is searingly good in this role.  

His put-upon ‘best friend’ Warren Straub, constantly labelled a compulsive "fuck-up" by Dennis, turns out to have some sense of purpose in his life, even if it’s mostly to do with acquiring items that will escalate in value as they become more rare. But he has complicated his life by stealing $15,ooo from his father, and it’s his turning up at Dennis’s apartment with that loot that mostly fuels the plot. Allan Henry’s compelling performance cannot help but win our empathy as we discover more and more about Dennis.

The quest for drugs, and for cutting deals to make a fast profit, comes to such an appalling end – or serves-them-right end, depending on your own set of values – that "getting wasted" takes on a whole new meaning.

And sex, of course, is the other ‘value’ that is abused, at least initially. Warren’s attraction to aspiring ‘fashion developer’ Jessica Goldman, a friend of Dennis’s badly-used girlfriend Valerie (unseen), her embarrassed, defensive but reciprocated interest, and their mutual desire to find something real amid all the crap, is the most humanising factor in play. Rachel Foreman ensures we share every thought and feeling Jessica endures.  

Director Rachel More keeps the pace cracking along as the characters flounder through two days of boredom, anxiety, emotional highs and self-loathing lows for our edification and delectation. The events may have significant consequences for the characters beyond the time-frame of the play. In later years one or two of them may see the experience as pivotal. Or those two days may simply merge into the general blur of their misspent youths, which they may or may not grow out of one day. We can only wonder and surmise.

First produced in 1996, This Is Our Youth doesn’t strike me as hugely relevant to us in 2008 but on reflection it does crystallise universal truth about those confusing times between adolescence and finding your self, your purpose and you independence from parental pressures. It also stands as a good cautionary tale for anyone who aspires to a lifestyle of the rich and idle, although reading the scandal mags surely does that already for anyone with half a brain.

And as a demonstration of high quality theatre craft, this production is very good indeed.


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Set misses mark but Cast’s touch is sure

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 05th Mar 2008

Old age as comedy in Clark’s New Zealand at Circa 1 and now rich, amoral drop-out youth in Reagan’s US of A wryly observed at Circa 2. Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 play is set in a tiny New York Upper West Side apartment bought for its young occupant, Dennis, by his father, a famous artist, to get him out of his hair.

It’s 1982 and Dennis operates from his apartment a small but growing business of selling drugs to his well-heeled friends. One friend, Warren, arrives with a bag of money he has stolen, in an act of bravado and rebellion, from his father, a successful lingerie manufacturer who "is not a criminal, he’s in business with criminals."

The bullying, abusive Dennis sees the $15,000 as a means of financing a big drug deal, while the unconfident underdog Warren sees it as a step towards maturity and an escape from a tragedy that haunts his family, as well as a chance to wheedle Jessica, whom he barely knows, into bed.

Warren has brought with him a case-full of 60s LPs, childhood toys and a baseball cap given to him by his grandfather. He is clinging to a happier past as he struggles with his dysfunctional family and scrabbles his way through that awkward stage between adolescence and manhood. He’s not helped by the overpowering Dennis or the emotionally confused Jessica.

The play captures the emotional crises in the characters’ lives with truth and comedy, though the occasional, almost oblique, references to Reaganomics (Warren’s mother is a social worker angered by the Government’s policies) don’t add up to any critique of the times. You do, however, get the feeling that all three will turn out just like their parents, leading ‘successful’ but messy, unhappy lives.

On a set that neither evokes the 80s nor New York nor seems grubby and untidy enough for the dissipated Dennis (he actually throws paper into a contemporary-looking waste-paper bin), the comedy is played with a very sure touch by its cast of three. Martyn Wood as Dennis is a lanky firework rocket of emotions, exploding at unexpected moments and Rachel Forman combines emotional confusion, sexual longing, guilt and shyness into a beguiling performance, particularly in her final scene when Jessica demands some sort of token from Warren after their night together.

Allan Henry’s Warren is an endearing schlemiel who is all awkward gestures, inexpressive shrugs, and with a hint of Neanderthal-like stance and walk, as well as a physical clumsiness that is echoed in his relationships with Jessica and Dennis.

It is all done with subtlety and easy laughs are avoided, and one almost feels like cheering when Warren shows at the end signs of standing up for himself against Dennis, who, of course, is to some extent a father-figure to him. It’s a lovely performance. 


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