“This is Our Youth”
The time after high school is one of change, whether that’s good or bad. This is Our Youth, a play by Kenneth Lonergan released in 1996, addresses this transitional age. “It’s really about that space between high school and college or those couple years out of high school where you’re trying to find the kind of person that you’re going to be for the rest of your life,” Performance Theater senior Bryson Hatfield says. Hatfield directed the play at the Greer Garson Theatre with a student cast and crew on March 22-25. This is Our Youth, set in 1982 upper westside Manhattan, focuses on the story of three young adults: Dennis Ziegler, a twenty-one-year-old ex-drug dealer who just got out of the game three weeks ago, Warren Straub, newly escaped from his father’s abusive household with $15,000 of his father’s money, and Jessica Goldman, a recent high school graduate trying to figure out her place in New York City.
Adam Troyer, a senior Acting major, played the role of Dennis and said “this idea of losing your sense of self because you’ve established your entire idea of who you are based around one thing” is what drew him to the character. “Dennis is losing his power,” said Troyer. “I went through losing a bunch of friends…I was doing drugs and selling drugs and so for me to be able to portray that on stage and go back in time almost and be an older version of me was really where I connected and was able to find these similar qualities with Dennis.” Troyer was one of only three cast members and said that the small cast and crew made it easier to connect to one another, especially with Hatfield’s direction. “He knows what he wants and he had a really great picture for the cast and he brought us together so well.”
Senior Acting major Sicily Ranieri played Jessica Goldman, a young woman trying to make friends while remaining honest with herself. “She’s trying to be part of this group of people and she thinks that’s where she…maybe not necessarily belongs, but that’s where she wants to be right now,” Ranieri says. “She’s so independent, she’s a really strong woman, and she kind of tries to dumb herself down for other people…She’s a feminist and she’s trying to hide that about herself.” The exchanges between Jessica and Warren reveal Jessica’s intelligence and complexity. The quick, extensive dialogue dealing with the fluidity of identity and what makes people change also showcased Ranieri’s skills as an actress. “It’s a really fun, really good witty play.”
Most of Ranieri’s scenes are opposite Lee Vignes, a junior Acting major who plays Warren. Vignes had no illusions about the character he was playing. “When I first got cast I was pretty scared. I read the script and I was like, ‘Oh my god, this character is so fucking annoying. He’s so annoying, how do you make a character like this likable?’” Through collaboration with Hatfield, Vignes managed to bring a pathos to the character by imagining him as “a kicked and battered stray dog because they always have that mentality of being clingy but they also have that ‘Don’t touch me’ thing going on.” Warren and Jessica’s romance highlighted one of the main themes of the play: the characters’ fears of becoming as abusive and manipulative as their own parents. “I think each of these characters has pivotal point decisions where they get to decide whether they want to continue to pursue that path, whether they want to continue to be that kind of a person or whether they want to remake themselves,” Hatfield said.
This was Hatfield’s first opportunity to direct on a mainstage with a significant budget and he enjoyed the experience working with a team of students in both cast and crew. “It’s so cool to have my own vision coming into this and then to collaborate with all of these people and then seeing it change, seeing how everyone’s different ideas mold into what this show has become,” Hatfield said. His focus entering into the production was collaboration. He let the actors have a voice in how their characters were portrayed. The lighting and sound designers, as well as the rest of the crew, also give their impression of how each piece of the production would fit together. Hatfield said the small cast “made it easier to create a sense of intimacy for sure and I think that that is important especially for a show like this.” That feeling of intimacy was mutual throughout the cast and crew. As Troyer said, “It’s just really created a certain amount of chemistry that’ll be there for years on end.”