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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin & Tavi Gevinson are 3 great reasons to see Steppenwolf Theatre's This Is Our Youth



I saw a production of Kenneth Lonergan's play, This Is Our Youth, in Steppenwolf Theatre's Garage space back in 1999, but I don't remember if I enjoyed it or not. I tried to find a program for it today - as I am one of those who saves such a reminder of a great (or truly awful) night of theater - but, alas, I could not locate one. So either I never received a program - which is possible - or I threw it away because the show just wasn't that memorable - good or bad. Now having seen a second production - which is currently playing at Steppenwolf's Upstairs Theatre - I can understand why my first introduction to the play may not have stuck with me all these years. This character study of disaffected youth in 1982 dwells heavily on the familiar territory of rich kids with unhappy childhoods and drug habits, but it is far more insightful and engaging when displaying the amusing and often painful awkwardness of young love/lust - which is something most of us can identify with. This Is Our Youth is a good play, but I must confess that the only reason I went to see it again is because of its stars - Michael Cera (whom I've been a fan of ever since TV's Arrested Development) and Kieran Culkin (whom I've liked ever since the 2002 film, Igby Goes Down). And sometimes all a good play needs to become a great production is to have its stars in alignment, which is what director Anna D. Shapiro is lucky to have in this particular case.

With their youthful appearances, 26-year-old Cera and 31-year-old Culkin can both still believably play 19-year-olds, and they each perfectly capture the teenage angst and humor in their characters. However, I was most impressed with 18-year-old Tavi Gevinson, who plays the object of Cera's affections. Unlike her male co-stars - who appeared together in a 2012 production of the play at the Sydney Opera House - this talented young actress doesn't have a long resume of stage or screen credits (she's best known as a fashion blogger and the founder and editor-in-chief of the online Rookie Magazine). But she is wonderful in this production, creating some nice onstage chemistry with Mr. Cera while reminding me at times of both Michelle Williams and Scarlett Johansson (which is meant as a compliment). These three actors all shine brightly in Steppenwolf's This Is Our Youth, making it a definite must-see this summer in Chicago (and on Broadway beginning in August). Hopefully Shapiro's intimate 299-seat in-the-round production will make a smooth transfer to the proscenium stage of the 1082-seat Cort Theatre.

Fifteen years from now I think that I will remember that I enjoyed my second production of This Is Our Youth. From Cera's funny remark that H.R. Pufnstuf freaks him out to Culkin's sing-a-long to "Any Way the Wind Blows" by The Mothers of Invention to Cera and Gevinson's delightful dance are a few moments that will definitely stick with me. But just in case, I will be saving this program.

This Is Our Youth runs through July 27 in Steppenwolf's Upstairs Theatre (1650 N. Halsted). For tickets and further information, call the box office at 312-335-1650 or go to steppenwolf.org. For tickets to the Broadway production, which begins previews August 18, go to thisisouryouthbroadway.com.

Photos by Michael Brosilow.

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