This Is Our Youth
Pine Box Theatre at the Athenaeum. By Kenneth Lonergan. Dir. Matt Miller. With Jon Barinholtz, Rob Belushi, Anne Adams.
A few years ago, Kenneth Lonergan’s chamber play, about disaffected Upper West Side kids in the Reagan ’80s, became a convenient West End vehicle for young Hollywood stars hungry for some stage cred. By taking away the flash, Pine Box’s unassuming production reveals that, although Lonergan’s charming 1996 play doesn’t say as much about youth or the ’80s as it wants to, it does give a gently affectionate take on three characters’ twentysomething confusion: Dennis (Barinholtz), the selfish asshole selling drugs to his fellow rich kids; Warren (Belushi), his sweetly befuddled, mayhem-prone friend who’s just swiped $15K from his jerk dad; and Jessica (Adams), Warren’s sudden love interest.
Miller has kept his cast low-key and at ease, not presenting Lonergan’s light humor but letting it come out organically. (An equally restrained hand would’ve benefited Brian Sidney Bembridge’s set, so eager to say Manhattan studio that its beaten-up, overtreated walls suggest a bad rash.) At times that unforced approach comes off forced, but mostly it rings true—thanks in large part to the arresting performance of Belushi, holding the stage and our attention almost every moment. Tossing around a football with Dennis, enduring Dennis’s verbal and physical abuse or nearly crumpling into tears as he tells Jessica about his dead sister, Belushi lives inside Warren with simple integrity. Barinholtz can seem slightly unsure of his role and its tone, but he and Adams hold their own. Yet it’s Belushi’s character and performance that keep the center of gravity in these free-floating lives.—Novid Parsi