Review by Jack Foley
IN WHAT is proving to be quite a showcase for the hottest young
American talent emerging from Hollywood, Kenneth Lonergan's acclaimed
This Is Our Youth has been revived at The Garrick Theatre
with another blistering cast.
When it opened in March 2002, Lonergan's darkly comic coming-of-age
tale provided theatre audiences with the chance to steal a glimpse
of a pre-Star Wars: Episode
Two Hayden Christensen, along with X-Men star, Anna Paquin,
and the hitherto unknown, Jake Gyllenhaal.
Gyllenhaal went on to steal the show and has rightly been nominated
in the Outstanding Newcomer category of the Evening Standard Theatre
Awards, while also winning over cinema audiences for his performance
in Donnie Darko.
The trio of Matt Damon, Summer Phoenix and Casey Affleck followed,
before the show closed for a short time, to the disappointment
of West End audiences.
Now, however, it has been revived with Colin Hanks (son of Tom),
Kieran Culkin (brother of Macaulay) and Alison Lohman - and it
is pleasing to be able to report that it has lost none of its
biting wit, or emotional gravitas.
Set in uptown New York, at the dawn of the affluent 80s, the play
concentrates on a trio of disaffected kids, who value sex, drugs
and rock 'n' roll above all else. At the start of proceedings,
we find Hanks' self-obsessed drug dealer, Dennis, reluctantly
taking in Culkins' wimpy Warren, who has stolen $15,000 from his
abusive father, and then hatching a plan for the ultimate party
using some of the cash.
Enter Lohman's neurotic Jessica, who is left on her own with Warren
and then embarks on a steamy night at the Plaza Hotel against
her better judgement.
The second act of the evening deals with the repercussion of
the night before, as Dennis attempts to patch things up with his
girlfriend and make good on the 'loan' of the stolen cash, and
Warren attempts to understand his place in the great scheme of
things - both with an embarrassed Jessica and a 'freaked out'
The ensuing production, played out within the grubby confines
of Dennis's apartment, makes for compelling viewing, drawing on
a lost culture and its struggle to survive against the drug-taking
excesses of its day.
Hanks, bearing an uncanny resemblance to his father, and displaying
a similar comic timing, is, possibly, the weaker of the trio,
partly because his character is the least likeable and partly
because his amiable appearance fails to convey the required look
of a dominating bully. But when it counts, the young star delivers,
and his gradual 'awakening' to the fact that drugs are bad, coupled
with his realisation that he is a 'hero' to the guy he so often
ridicules, makes for riveting viewing and suggests that the surname
Hanks could well be around for at least another generation.
Stronger still are both Lohman and Culkin, whose scenes together
- packed with awkward silences and misunderstood advances - provide
the highlight of the evening. Lohman, who will soon be seen on
the big screen alongside Michelle Pfeiffer in White Oleander,
before moving on to Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men (with Nic Cage),
perfectly conveys the uptight insecurities of her appearance-obsessed
character, and the mixed up feelings of the morning after.
But it is Culkin, sliding easily into the Gyllenhaal role of Warren,
who really steals the show. Less showy and a little quieter than
his highly-praised predecessor, Culkin's remains a mesmerising
performance, effortlessly conveying the frustrated and trampled
upon emotions of his character - a self-confessed loner, still
trying to come to terms with the murder of his sister (10 years
earlier), who quietly resents the abuse he is dealt, almost on
a daily basis, from so-called friends.
Culkin could well be a Gyllenhaal for the very-near future (if
the advance word on his latest movie, Igby
Goes Down, is to be believed), and he clearly seems to be
having a ball with Warren, suggesting more with a wry smile, or
a nod of the head, than a lot of actors can with far showier techniques.
He plays well off Hanks and Lohman, is strong enough to control
the audiences' attention when appearing alone and has the range
both to engage both the funny bone and tug at our emotions at
different points of proceedings.
Laurence Boswell's under-stated direction also allows his actors
to really shine through, while Lonergan's spiky script, containing
plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, gives them (and us) plenty to
chew on. All in all, a terrifically entertaining evening, making
a welcome return, which gives film buffs and theatre-goers the
chance to see Hollywood's stars of tomorrow, up close and personal,
within the confines of the West End stage. Don't miss it.
This is Our Youth, by Kenneth Lonergan. Directed by Laurence
Boswell. WITH: Colin Hanks (Dennis), Kieran Culkin (Warren), Alison
Lohman (Jessica). Garrick Theatre, 2 Charing Cross Road, WC2 Mondays
to Saturdays at 7.30pm Thursday and Saturday matinees at 3pm.
Tickets 0870 890 1104