In 1997, Kenneth Lonergan wasn’t simply desperate for a title when he decided to stretch his one-act play, BETRAYED BY EVERYONE, to a full-length and rename it THIS IS OUR YOUTH. Though barely passable for a commercial title, it still comes with a deeper context. See, in it’s full form, Lonergan’s material manages to explore the duality of reason and presents a clearer understanding of what “we” used to be. THIS IS OUR YOUTH examines the truth about our mindless decisions and cruel realizations, during a time when hope was fresh and tomorrow was always another day.
Nineteen-year-old Warren crushes into twenty-two-year-old Dennis Ziegler’s flat in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. With a big luggage, he announces that his father can’t bear him smoking weeds in the house and throws him out. Warren admits that before he left his father’s place, he stole fifteen thousand dollars from his father’s closet. He knows that it’s bad money, anyway. But he wants to get even with his father. The two argues as to how they’d use the stolen sum. At first, Dennis doesn’t want to be involved, but Warren has other ideas. He plans to spend the money on drugs, girls and have a good time. Enter Jessica, a common acquaintance, and to whom Warren has developed a crush on. As Dennis steps out of the flat to pursue a proposed plan, he leaves Warren and Jessica by themselves.
Dennis’ flat is lavishly messy, chaotically organized, but still nostalgically embracing in Red Turnip Theater‘s production of THIS IS OUR YOUTH. Director Topper Fabregas breaks the fourth wall, as he graciously allows the audiences to sit comfortably within and around Dennis’ apartment. To say that it is homelike, is underplaying the description. In a way, Fabregas gives his audiences the same feel that the stowaway Warren feels whenever he’s in his friend’s flat. Here, we develop as sense of ease, confidence, and nostalgia.
Yes, that’s how embracing the entire set is. Reminds me of 33 VARIATIONS‘ (also by Red Turnip) dimensional universes in White Space. Only this time, it’s much more personal, more convenient, and accessible.
Jef Flores’ Dennis offers a boisterous young man, who thinks too old for his age (or maybe not). Flores took on such a demanding role as young Warren’s alpha, but he accepted the challenge and delivers with gripping intensity. Worthy to note is his 15-minute monologue which could be jumpy at one point and emotional in another. Between Dennis and Warren, the former takes the Alpha, and Flores shines. No doubt about that. With his dashing presence and fiery passion as the ill-tensed Dennis, Flores manages to capture our attention and made us want to reach out even to such a complicated character.
And it is the ecstatic, love-blind and hopeful Nicco Manalo as Warren who neutralizes this bouncy duo. Manalo pars so amazingly with Flores’ passion and energy, albeit, polarizes his character at strategic thematic distance to establish irony. Hence, completing a whole. Manalo is such a fun to watch as the jolly Warren. His punchlines never fail, his blocks accordingly appropriate for someone who’s still so unsure of himself and his life. Warren sees all things as positively regal – except for his father, perhaps – and it is in his blissful final stages of innocence do we see how wonderfully freeing being young is (or was).
Then, there’s Cindy Lopez as Jessica. Caught in the middle of an, already, energetic duo act is Lopez’ passive presence, which I think, pulls the notch a little lower. That’s the challenge when you take the communion with highly experienced actors such as Flores and Manalo. See, there’s so much promise in this Lonergan character. In Jessica we can explore the self-doubting young gal who could be an easy victim of temporary boredom and sudden infatuations. She is the alternative polar to the two battling male characters; the neutralizer and a then the deal breaker. But Lopez’ rendition makes Jessica a passive foil, a menacing statue in the center of what could have been a totally engaging two-hour discourse. Lopez can do more. Really. Sayang kasi.
Fabregas directs so freely, yet congruently, dismissing some standard rules in stage blockings. Though some may consider it a downside, it works, nonetheless. His set’s comfortable hospitality brings with it the familiar sensation of “being right here, right now.” Watching mostly the back of actors during some crucial scenes could a forgivable and refreshing consequence. It is in its eccentricity and study that somewhat makes it raw, believable, and piercing.
In its “nothingness,” Lonergan’s material tackles deeper themes of life’s early journeys. Warren, Dennis and Jessica’s story may just be a capsule of a entire day’s event, but it reflects the queer and screwed mind of the young. With it are the bad decisions, the harsh languages, the sudden infatuations and cruel – yet incredible – realizations. We understand them, of course. We’ve been there. When Jessica asks for Warren’s most favorite memorablia (his grandfather’s cap), in exchange for the latter’s absolution, he realizes that there are more important things in life than one’s First Kiss. Jessica, after getting the news that her one-night-adventure with Warren reached her bestfriend, she learned that a “quickie” is not worth one’s name. And as Dennis ultimately confronts the idea of death, he realizes, once and for all, that life is not forever.
These realizations – cruel as they may seem – mold us and take us to the good side. As Lonergan focuses on the efforts of Dennis and Warren to return the cash to the latter’s father, he presents a biting narrative about a generation in its ironic struggle both to resist and to attain adulthood; and it is through their own realizations do they see how they can better tomorrow.
So as you leave Dennis’ flat, you know (that like you), they’re going to be just fine.
Don’t miss this one.
Photos by Erickson dela Cruz