The past is not kind to the quirky survivors of ‘Our Youth’ and ‘Psychos’
For people of a certain age — those who grew up in the 1980s, the original MTV generation for whom the privileges of the upper-middle-class seemed like a birthright bestowed by Ronald Reagan irrespective of our deservingness (myself included) — Kenneth Lonergan’s play "This Is Our Youth," presented by the aptly-named new theater company Upstart Productions, will strike so many chords, you might feel you’re living inside a Hammond organ.
It’s not even that events portrayed — mostly, a banal series of efforts to get laid and find the money to pay for it — will reflect your own life at the time. Rather, it’s the types, and the tone that oozes a nostalgic familiarity. The sparse but precise design elements (pencil-legged jeans with braided belt, a mattress on the floor, lots of cocaine) conjure up the days of "Bright Lights, Big City," when you didn’t wake up after a night of partying so much as come to. Ah, the good ol’ days.
But really not so good, as the creeping verisimilitude of the play slowly but inexorably convinces us. There’s a lot of political and social satire hidden among all the pointless wanderings of Warren (Drew Wall) and his buddy Dennis (Matthew M. Fowler), two Upper East Siders living the bohemian life on their parents’ dime. When Warren steals $15,000 from his Mob-connected dad, they have to find a way to repay it and make a little extra along the way — enough for Warren to impress Jessica (Barrett Nash).
That’s it. Except that with Rene Moreno directing, it’s so much more. Moreno has an effortless ability to pull mature, naturalistic performances out of even the least youngest actors. Wall, one of the most dynamic young actors in Dallas right now, turns several long silences into heartbreaking studies of discovered disappointment. Fowler has down pat the faux bravado of the smarmy manipulator hiding his insecurity behind a faÃ§ade of hostility. Nash is simply terrific.
"This Is Our Youth" seems less a play than an extended eavesdrop through time as real lives play out. Lonergan’s dialogue evokes Woody Allen with more F-bombs and a Gen-X bent — "Less Than Zero" with laughs. But there’s a sense of existential angst, too: "Waiting for Godot" in the Reagan Era.
At least the teens in "This Is Our Youth" are unburdened by having had any values; the clutch of weirdos in "Psychos Never Dream" at Kitchen Dog Theater know the pain of once believing in something and letting it go to hell.
At least, I think that’s what happened. It’s difficult to figure out much of anything in this inky dark comedy that unfolds like a Raymond Chandler screenplay reinterpreted by the Coen Brothers in a druggy fog. There are several murders, but all seem to take place off-stage, and it’s not always clear whether the dead will remain dead. Even the lesbian sheriff’s deputy (Lisa Lee Schmidt) can’t seem to figure it all out.
But figuring it out is so, so… bourgeois. It’s the kind of thinking that leads Critter (Raphael Parry) to bludgeon a neighbor and Red (Tina Parker) to… well, you’ll have to figure that out yourself. And explain it to me when you do.
Which is not to say "Psychos" isn’t worth seeing. Playwright Denis Johnson and director David Kennedy might not be expert at rational exposition, but they create dynamic set-pieces that grab you by the shorthairs. (That’s especially true in a scene where Parry wields a machete and is nude except for cowboy boots and a healthy slathering of blood — shocking onstage, though not unfamiliar to anyone who’s walked through Greenwich Village at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday.) And Parker, Texas’ most exquisitely tragic white trash schlub, delivers another wrenching performance as a soul-crushed loser. "Psychos" might not dream, but they can sure trigger nightmares in others.
"Psychos Never Dream," The MAC, 3120 McKinney Ave. Through April 4.
"This Is Our Youth," The Green Zone, 161 Riveredge Drive. Through March 22.
GOING TO THE DOGS
Most theater companies hold fundraisers during the year. Some put on a special show, like Uptown Players’ "Broadway Our Way;" some, like WaterTower, host a black-tie gala.
But Kitchen Dog Theater keeps it as down and dirty as their namesake canine suggests. The annual Hooch & Pooch Fiesta (this year with a Latin theme) is a raucous event, that lets the theater community do what it does best: Drink itself blind.
Kidding. But we’re not kidding about the party, featuring music, food, raffle items and plenty of booze. Proof that it will be fabulous? As before, the hosts this year are Todd Fiscus, pictured, and Rob Dailey. And you know the gays know how to throw a party.
The Apartment in the Design District, 1444 Oak Lawn Ave., suite 206. March 13, 7â€“11 p.m. $60 in advance, $75 at the door. 214-953-1055. Kitchendogtheater.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 13, 2009.