This Is Our Youth

Presented by: Inside Job Productions

Date Reviewed: 16 January, 2009

Venue: Fortyfive Downstairs

Reviewer: Adam Rafferty – Theatre People Editor


Ben Geurens and Ashley Zukerman Photo: Pia Johnson

Kenneth Lonergan’s review of young adulthood in Reagan-era New York, This Is Our Youth, has become almost a foundation stone for many young Hollywood performers keen to try their skills out on the stage. Particularly during its 2002 West End run, this three-hander featured a cavalcade of bright young things, including Matt Damon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anna Paquin, Hayden Christensen, Casey Affleck and Freddie Prinze Jr.

Likewise, some of Australia’s brightest young talents – Ben Geurens, Ashley Zukerman and Nicole De Silva - have now turned their hands to Lonergan’s introspective view of burgeoning maturity in the early ‘80s. However, while Zukerman and De Silva are perhaps now well-known from their roles in Channel Ten’s Rush, both have significant theatre experience behind them and Zukerman, along with Geurens notably starred in Melbourne Theatre Company’s successful season of The History Boys in 2007. So this production suffers nothing from the youth of its stars and in fact, often glows with its youthful enthusiasm.

Nicole De Silva Photo: Pia Johnson
On a packed opening night where the fortyfive downstairs seating space seemed to work perfectly for the first time, the intimate setting was electrified as the young stars bounced off each other displaying their obvious affection for the text and one another.

Geurens and Zukerman are both founding members of this new production company along with director Nicholas Pollock and producer Martina Murray, so it helps to explain why these two seem to relish every aspect of their quirky characters. Geurens plays Dennis, whose apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan is the setting for the play. When his 19-year-old friend and fellow college dropout, Warren – Zukerman – turns up on the doorstep with $15,000 he has just stolen from his abusive father, Dennis hatches a plan to use some of the funds to buy cocaine. He’ll cut it with sugar and on-sell it to a friend for a greater price. Warren however has other plans for how to use his newfound windfall; when fashion student and pop psychologist Jessica Goldman comes over he seizes the opportunity to entice her into bed by renting a suite at the Plaza Hotel and romancing her with room service.

Geurens ably defines Dennis’ restless, wily and domineering nature, clearly displaying the power in his relationship with Warren. When reaching for the top levels of aggression in his performance Geurens seems to somewhat disconnect from the reality of the situation, but overall his interpretation of the drug-fuelled ‘lost boy’ is well honed and slowly bubbles with darkly affectionate energy. 

Similarly, Zukerman has a contagious spark in his performance that electrifies in the intimate space, but with a youthful naivety and puppy-like enthusiasm that contrasts wonderfully with Geurens. The only criticism that can be wavered over his performance is that perhaps too much attention to naturalism makes the performance slightly less natural to the viewer. At the end of the day though, his performance is glorious to watch – especially when Warren attempts to match wits with Jessica.

Ashley Zukerman and Ben Geurens Photo: Pia Johnson
Ashley Zukerman and Nicole De Silva Photo: Pia Johnson                                                                                                                                                           

Treading the difficult line of intellectual superiority yet sexual attraction to Warren is something De Silva balances well in her performance of Jessica. The affinity the pair has gained from their onscreen work together aides beautifully their performance here, and particularly for De Silva, adds an extra level when illustrating the pain of Warren’s irrational behaviour towards her in Act Two. While De Silva struggles a little with the accent, her emotional integrity is on the mark and her comic skills - displayed to best effect when Warren and Jessica dance to vinyl records – are a delight to behold, making the most of the opportunities in this supporting role.

Andrew Bailey’s intriguing set design is not only functional – affecting all the necessary collapses required as the two boys get overly enthusiastic with their game of ‘catch’ – but it imbues the venue with a level of warm intimacy I’ve rarely seen it achieve before. Suddenly fortyfive downstairs seems a less limited space – future hirers take note! 

Director Nicholas Pollock has kept the pace and energy of the piece alive with his restive and agitated blocking – making use of every square inch of the deceptively small set. His performers have done him proud, but he should also be pleased with his own work in ensuring that the themes of maturing from adolescence and being adrift in an era that was struggling to define itself are clearly portrayed. 

Ultimately, Lonergan’s play makes no defined point, it merely observes what it meant to be an adolescent in America in 1982 and therefore makes a statement regarding the foundations upon which today’s leaders were built. But then again, maybe it’s just making a point about the foundations upon which tomorrow’s stars will be built. We shall wait and see.  
                                                                                         Nicole De Silva and Ashley Zukerman

                                                                                                                Photo: Pia Johnson


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