Performance diary: THIS IS OUR YOUTH and BOOTYCANDY

August 31, 2014

8.30.14 Double-header on Labor Day Weekend.

Matinee: Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth is not a play I’ve been longing to see again. I remember seeing the original Off-Broadway production directed by Mark Brokaw at The New Group in 1996 and thinking some version of, “Who cares about these overprivileged rich, bored, lost white kids hanging out in an Upper West Side apartment doing drugs and talking trash?” I admired the cast – handsome and sad Mark Ruffalo (this is the role that launched his career), Josh Hamilton (always brilliant, usually playing the second male lead with impeccable style and understatement), and Missy Yager (poignant as the plain girl left out of the fiery relationship between the two guys) – but not much else about the show. I kept telling myself that for months, as the revival of the play, directed by Anna D. Shapiro (famous for August: Osage County), made its way from Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago to Broadway. But I couldn’t help being mesmerized and tantalized by the cast: Michael Cera, the brilliantly deadpan young film actor whose performances in Juno, Superbad, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World blew me away; Kieran Culkin, Macaulay’s brother who played the obnoxious gay roommate in Scott Pilgrim; and Tavi Gevinson, the already-legendary young media maven who started a fashion blog at age 11, runs her own magazine called Rookie, made her film debut last year in a small but well-done role in Nicole Hofcener’s Enough Said…and just graduated from high school in June.

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I broke down and bought a ticket, making it a point to sit close, fourth row center. I’m definitely glad I saw the show. These actors made the play compelling to me, and I enjoyed watching them from close quarters. Cera’s Warren doesn’t stray far from the awkward young dudes he’s played in movies, but as in Sebastian Silva’s Crystal Fairy he doesn’t play for charm, he plays for truth, and he creates a very particular physical character whose arms rarely seem to bend at the elbows and whose face becomes more unreadable the more emotional he gets. Gevinson’s Jessica has the smallest amount of stage time, all of it engaged in an ambivalent post-teen romantic dance with Cera. They have great chemistry and stay locked into each other the whole time, through many emotional twists and turns, though afterwards I felt less wowed by her than I expected to feel and wondered if her character hadn’t been a little too polished up – I have a memory of Jessica being a little plainer (wasn’t she previously still in high school, rather than enrolled at FIT?). Meanwhile, I came away super-impressed with Kieran Culkin, who has to barrel through an unbelievable tangle of plot turns and manipulations, several of them exclusively conducted over the phone, which he does at high speed, at high energy, with high plausibility. Hats off, dude! I appreciated the script more than I did before, at least in its commitment to the naturalistic details of these kids’ lives, thoughts, and preoccupations – less so when it veered into long expository monologues, though Culkin manages the, what, five-page monologue in act two masterfully. Because it’s a play with three characters set in one room, I kept thinking about Mamet’s American Buffalo and Speed-the-Plow as well as Martin McDonagh’s A Behanding in Spokane, and a little bit about The Motherfucker with the Hat, which Shapiro also staged for maximum comedy AND drama, not always easy. Hats off to her, too.

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Evening: There’s probably 20-25 minutes’ worth of good material in Robert O’Hara’s Bootycandy at Playwrights Horizons. Unfortunately, it’s stretched out over two and a half hours in a production that makes a definitive case against the proposition of playwrights directing their own work. There’s not a single joke in the show that isn’t milked for five to 50 times more than its worth. By the end, I couldn’t get out of the theater fast enough, apologizing to Andy for the single worst show I’ve ever dragged him to. (He didn’t hate it as much as I did, and he would reserve that honor for Ivo van Hove’s staging of Teorema on Governors Island.) Sure, lots of people in the audience hooted and hollered and laughed and talked back and stood up at the end. Some of them had loaded up on cocktails beforehand and during intermission, but I still contend that they deserved better, as did the fine hard-working actors, who definitely get to do lots of crazy stuff and chew all kinds of Clint Ramos’s scenery. I’ve followed O’Hara’s work from afar and have wanted to check it out, because how many openly gay black male playwrights are there in the world? I’m willing to believe he’s capable of writing a play that I’ll admire someday but, whew, it’ll have to be directed by somebody else.

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