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Formative Years

Drug deals, stolen money in Main Stage's 'Youth'

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GETTING RIGHT Jimmy Gagarin, Lauren Heney and Lukas Thompson (L-R).
  • GETTING RIGHT Jimmy Gagarin, Lauren Heney and Lukas Thompson (L-R).

When playwright Kenneth Lonergan first introduced audiences to his self-absorbed, drug-using, post-adolescent characters Dennis, Warren and Jessica, audiences didn't know what to think of This is Our Youth. The play, a dark comedy, steeped in drug use, strong profanity and references from H.R. Pufnstuf to Major Matt Mason.

If you're too old for those references, you might be among those who feel a tad uncomfortable with Lonergan's raw and honest slice of Reagan-era life. At Sebastopol's Main Stage West, a first-rate cast is taking a good, entertaining crack at 'This is Our Youth,' with fine results.

Directed by Keith Baker with a confident, laidback style that's nonetheless engaging—even if it lacks some of the intensity and high-stakes drama of other productions—the play takes place in the apartment of Dennis, a brash, articulate part-time drug dealer who reluctantly agrees to let his friend Warren (a frequent customer) stay over after he gets kicked out of the house by his abusive lingerie-tycoon father. Warren stole five grand in cash before he vacated his dad's house, and now he has to figure out how to replace the cash he's already spent before he can risk a return to his home.

Into this mix steps Jessica, the wary yet game-to-party object of Warren's desire. Eager to impress her with offers of expensive hotels and room service, Warren digs deeper into his pile of stolen money—and digs himself deeper into trouble.

A drug deal is proposed to earn the missing money. It does not go well.

As Dennis, Jimmy Gagarin is sensational, hilariously primal at times, like an angry, pot-smoking rooster, but not above collapsing into tears when he finds himself moved by Warren's puppy-dog sense of misplaced hero-worship. Lukas Thompson, as Warren, has a wonderfully nerdy, wounded-but-defiant attitude, blending a sense of amiable hurt with a fragile hopefulness as he grows from adolescent to adult before our eyes. And as Jessica, Lauren Heney, with less stage time than the others, holds her own in scenes with Thompson and Gagarin, allowing her to show tiny flashes of girlish glee beneath the character's calculated veneer of distanced cool.

With stunningly good dialogue and cleverly constructed storytelling, This is Our Youth is well worth a trip, whether it makes you remember your own youth, or worry—just a little—about what your own kids might be up to.

Rating: ★★★★

'This is Our Youth' runs Thursday-Sunday through Nov. 17 at Main Stage West. 106 N. Main St., Sebastopol. Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 5pm. $15-$25. 707.823.0177.

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