By Derek Dashiell | Staff Writer
Watching This Is Our Youth, a play by Kenneth Lonergan, at the Horn this past weekend was rather like being in the live studio audience for a sitcom — if everyone in the sitcom could act well and the show talked about dead sisters, one-night stands and the economic viability of cocaine.
The play follows the misadventures of two conniving young men and their beaus — one noticeably absent, one intensely present.
As the two try to navigate the perils of stolen money, dependence on inadequate families, drug use and their own individual value, the characters strangely enough came to resemble a friend or a classmate.
And in this lies the play’s central power: relatability.
Ethan Raduns-Silverstein ’16 immediately commanded the stage as Dennis — a portrayal that looked like what would have been if the lovechild of Nicholas Cage and Kramer from Seinfeld grew up to be an easily enraged drug dealer.
Raduns-Silverstein carried himself with the practical clarity of someone who’s been a dealer for five years but still exhibited a rage that bordered on vulnerable.
Though Dennis’s reputation is based on intimidation, his threatening nature is just a symptom of his mother’s treatment of him.
For all of Dennis’s theories on social protocol, he needs his best friend’s respect, and Radus-Silverstein balanced this weight through Dennis’ fury and fear.
Joseph Randles ’16 played his best friend Warren, and though Warren acted in response to Dennis’s actions for the duration of the play, he was anything but in the background.
Warren immediately reminded one of George from Of Mice And Men — while George wasn’t as impulsive as Warren, the two share a kind heart and a scheming mind.
Many actors react too quickly to lines they’re expecting, but Randles’s timing, always a step behind Raduns-Silverstein’s decrees, was so precise as to appear natural.
In his romantic scenes, he was flustered and eager, and the barely contained hopefulness in his interactions with his would-be girl made you root for him from the get-go.
Lucy Adams ’16 as Jessica instantly seemed like someone to impress.
She approached the dialogue like she was always trying to have a better conversation, and she carried herself with laid-back dissatisfaction.
Underneath her calm, though, was a constant vulnerability and willingness to cut-and-run, and in many ways the frightened loneliness that held so much power over Jessica made Adams’s acting the most affecting.
Jessica is always either advancing or retreating, unable to achieve stasis — was written all over Adams’s face.
Director Marie Baldassarre ’16 worked alongside Assistant Director Gus Riley ’16 through the Horn’s fall theatre grant, and to call their touch nuanced would be an understatement.
The play had realistic and efficient pacing with their contributions as characters traveled the stage many times without their motion ever seeming forced.
There were little bits of dialogue that got interrupted or ignored, never to be pursued, much like real conversation, and their timing made them just distracting enough to be noticed but not distracting enough to be dwelled on.
And then there were all the scene-specific details.
For example, the intimate moments between Warren and Jessica made illustrated their experiance, and the scuffles between Dennis and Warren perfectly walked the line between violent and vaudeville.
The play felt incredibly local, and stage manager Lucy Coplin ’17 contributed to that in a major way: the set effectively blended an ’80s NYC flat and a first-floor New Apt.
Then there’s the music, which was a playlist of ’80s synth-schlock that sounded bad at first but this intial reaction was forgotten because it was somehow fitting for these characters, and it was definitely satisfying.
While Dennis, Warren and Jessica might not have been your friends, the play felt as though it had been watched at Dennis’ house on an exciting, if not strange, day in their collective lives, and that locality was a great success of the play.
To achieve a setting that feels that natural, every aspect of its production has to achieve the same effect, with the same effectiveness — This Is Our Youth did just that.