THIS IS OUR YOUTH by Kenneth Lonergan is one of those plays that young theatre-makers are drawn to. It’s sharp, it’s funny, and it has a rebelliousness about it that appeals to a certain demographic. And it’s a good play. No wonder, then, that The Regular Theatre Company has chosen it for their debut outing.
Setting up shop in a storefront on Main Street (Graydon Head), this ambitious group of Xavier Theatre students have produced a terrific first show. The cast is strong, the set impressive, and their mission evident. I liked it a lot.
Directed by Hannah Sgambellone (who gave one of the most honest, charming curtain speeches I’ve heard), the story focuses on the relationship between Dennis (Henry Eden), Warren (Micah Price), and Jessica (Ellie Conniff). As twenty-somethings in 1982 Manhattan, the characters’ world is centered around drugs, sex, and music – universal themes these 20-something actors can still relate to. Even if they didn’t experience Ronald Reagan as President they can relate to themes of materialism, adolescent autonomy, and love and loss.
I had a migraine that regrettably caused me to leave at intermission but I saw enough to know how good this production is. There are some fine moments of performance throughout the first act. Eden’s frenetic anger and unpredictability as Dennis is appropriately scary. With more stage time, I think he can find new dynamics in some of the more outrageous moments. Price’s “Warren” is awkward, but charming. His prowess as a physical comedian comes through in several moments with Conniff’s “Jessica.” And when he zones in and finds the truth in a moment, it’s mesmerizing.
Conniff plays Jessica with the right level of conflict. She wants to let go but has been hurt too often to be too vulnerable. She’s reluctant. And she’s young. Conniff seems to understand Jessica’s naivety and curiosity, while keeping her guard up.
There were some technical gaffes on opening night, with audio not quite in sync with the action on stage. Some of the physicality was overpowering, as was some of the shouting and projecting from the actors. It’s gotta be hard to navigate such an intimate space when you are performing on bigger stages elsewhere. But those are minor quibbles.
The better-than-I-expected set is representative of the professionalism of The Regular Theatre. It’s well designed and serves the play and actors well. But its the raw elements of the production that show the heart of this rag-tag group of friends seeking to produce art for and by “regular people.” I’d say they succeeded – and I imagine that nearly sold-out opening night audience would agree.
THIS IS OUR YOUTH is a fine production; and I’m happy that these youth are the part of the ever-expanding landscape of Cincinnati theatre.
THIS IS OUR YOUTH runs again tomorrow night and Sunday afternoon at 1421 Main Street. More information can be found here.