TFM Review: This is Our Youth by Nikki Francisco
It must be said that Kenneth Lonergan’s “This is Our Youth” is a period piece. First staged in 1996, it’s about three privileged post-adolescent New Yorkers during the Reagan era yet, without updating the material whatsoever, it could’ve been about today’s youth, too. Maybe that’s the point—that the generation who birthed today’s millennials felt just as lost, just as apathetic, just as uncertain about their future as their progeny feels now.
We first meet Dennis (Jef Flores) in his Upper West Side studio apartment, generously paid for by his well-off parents. For all his privilege, he is a slacker and part-time drug dealer, trafficking mostly to his other apathetic, moneyed peers. There’s a knock on his door and enter Warren (Nicco Manalo). Awkward, nerdy, impressionable. He arrives with a suitcase of old toys, his backpack full of hard, stolen cash.
This sets up a thin plot we’re about to follow, but it’s clear that the show isn’t really about how these kids are going to spend—and later on, make up—the fifteen grand that’s fallen on their laps. This is a character study of these two very different youths in very similar situations.
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Jef Flores continues to show that he is one of Philippine theater’s rapidly rising stars. He gives a shock-and-awe performance in his portrayal of the constantly high and wired Dennis. A lot of the very specific and rather rhythmic dialogue was on his shoulders and he was able to deliver. And well.
Nicco Manalo, playing Denny’s favorite friend and punching bag, Warren, was equally great, too. Together, they were compulsively watchable on stage. Their jokes land, their insecurities, palpable. Both were able to show the range of emotions within the intelligent yet chaotic and drug-addled young minds of their characters.
It’s easy for them to go over the top, to cross over that fine line into annoying (they blatantly misuse their youth and privilege, after all) but they’re able to humanize their respective characters, and give Warren and Dennis a complexity that makes them less dangerous and more misunderstood.
Rounding out their small cast was Cindy Lopez who plays Jessica. Her performance is stilted compared to the other two. Then again her character is underwritten in comparison. Where the guys were given sweeping monologues that explain why they are the way they are, we are given very little insight into the girl. She was mostly there to aid Warren’s awkward awakening, but the scenes between her and Mr. Manalo’s Warren were a hilarious reprieve from all the drugs-and-toaster talk.
Red Turnip Theater affectionately refers to this staging as a ‘.5’ production. Sure, it’s not as big as their major shows, but there’s nothing ‘half’ about this one. It may be set in a smaller venue with a smaller cast, but the impact of the material and caliber of performances are full and bursting.
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Have you seen the show? What did you think?
Photos by Erickson Dela Cruz