No play ever celebrated arrested development quite so amusingly as Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth, a shambling off-Broadway hit from 1996 now revived starring Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and an ingenue named Tavi Gavinson, all making their Broadway debuts. The production is the latest transfer by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, and as staged by Anna D. Shapiro, it’s typical of that celebrated troupe in its physicality combined with thoughtfulness.
The time is the 1980s and the setting is the apartment of Dennis (Culkin), who passes the time selling weed and coke while waiting for his life to happen. When his equally vacant but much milder friend Warren (Cera, of Juno and Arrested Development) shows up with $15,000 stolen from his possibly mobbed-up father, the boys consider several options: using the money to score a major drug deal and make even more money; return it before Warren’s father discovers it missing and unleashes baseball bat-bearing goons to retrieve it; or use at least some of it to impress Jessica (Gavinson), who has caught the virginal Warren’s eye.
A bit of everything and nothing transpires as Dennis and Warren tussle semi-homoerotically, Warren and Jessica meet cute and head off to the Plaza Hotel for a night of fooling around and Dom Perignon, and all three face an uncertain future with a heightened sense of fear. The play, which launched the careers of both Lonergan and Mark Ruffalo (the original Warren), now feels like a period piece; a shell of amber surrounds it. This might have to do with fine performances that nonetheless fail to connect. Culkin exudes energy but not the menace that makes Dennis interesting; Cera raises blankness of expression almost to the level of art, and Gevinson is simply out of her league on the Broadway stage.
The best things about the show are Todd Rosenthal’s perfect set (Richard Pryor poster: Check. Stereo tower speakers: Check. Basketball prominently shelved: Check) and the faux-classical incidental music by Rostam Batmanglij (of the band Vampire Weekend) that subtly mocks the proceedings.
Robert O’Hara is the author and director of Bootycandy, a hallucinatorily funny, scathing and only occasionally puerile show about growing up black and gay in America. Running at the invaluable Playwrights Horizons (it had its premiere three years ago at D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company), it stars Phillip James Brandon in the autobiographical role of Sutter, who makes himself a doppleganger for Michael Jackson (right down to the spit curl and single sequined glove), despite — or perhaps in reaction to — his daddy’s admonition to join a sports team, etc.
The show is structured as a series of blackout sketches. In mocking several sacred icons of black culture — the galvanizing preacher, who in this case comes out of the closet in a gown to rival that of Marilyn Monroe at JFK’s birthday party; the use of Muslim names for African-American children (or, as in one lesbian pairing, Genitalia and Intifada) — Bootycandy is the most hilariously subversive comedy since George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum. And yet it has a poignance that might stay with you after the laughter has subsided. Don’t miss it.
59E59 is a complex of theaters in tony east midtown that features some of the most adventurous programming in town. It’s launched an Irish theater festival with Boys And Girls, an import from Dublin written and directed by Dylan Coburn Gray that has some of the same qualities as This Is Our Youth but shorter, in mostly rhyming couplets, and with a lot more sex talk.
And there’s the imported Bauer, a play that attempts to restore the reputation of Rudolf Bauer, the most important modern artist you’ve never heard of.
Bauer was a German abstract expressionist of the 1920s through ’40s. He caught the fancy of Solomon R. Guggenheim, the philanthropist who planned a museum to showcase his works and those by and such contemporaries as Kandinsky and Klee. But a falling out between Bauer and his lover Hilla von Rebay, who worked for Guggenheim, over the rights to his work, caused him to stop painting. The rift became irreparable after Bauer married his maid, Louise.
Lauren Gunderson’s play, brought to New York from the San Francisco Playhouse under the aegis of Rowland Weinstein, has hard-sell stamped all over it. The writing and acting are amateurish with the exception of Stacy Ross’s sharp, nuanced Hilla. The fact that Rowland owns the gallery representing Bauer’s work (a cute little catalogue raisonee is handed out to exiting theatergoers) is a bit too too.