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This Was His Youth

Playwright Kenneth Lonergan talks misspent youth, fatherhood and his big Broadway debut

Youth today doesn’t look quite like it did in 1982. But that’s easy enough to forget during This Is Our Youth, now open on Broadway and starring Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and impressive teenager ne plus ultra Tavi Gevinson. The show, penned by Kenneth Lonergan, follows a set of Upper West Side teenagers as they maneuver some decidedly adult situations and attempt to figure out who they are as opposed to whom they’re pretending to be.

And while the show does take place in a simpler time, the new production—directed by Anna Shapiro—doesn’t feel a bit out of date. Part of that could be credited to slight updates, like a score by Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, but mostly it’s thanks to Lonergan’s script and the enduring nature of precocious young adults.

Here, the writer talks about bringing the show to Broadway and how drugs have changed since 1982, but life has stayed the same. 

This Is Our Youth

This Is Our Youth

This Is Our Youth made its world premiere off-Broadway in 1996 and has been done around the world ever since. How did this, its first Broadway outing, come together?

It took a few tries to get it together because of the nature of people’s schedules and all kinds of little stuff. But this particular production coalesced pretty quickly; it came together maybe a year ago. We found out the theatre was available, and we liked of using Kiernan and Michael, and I think getting Anna Shapiro to direct it was the catalyst. 

You’re the guy who wrote the show. How involved are you in a given production? 

It depends on the production, but for this production I was very involved. I was very excited about it; I’ve never been on Broadway before. I was so pleased with the original production that I didn’t want to do it again until I could get an equally interesting one going.

But you have done the show in plenty of places outside of New York.  What’s the reception been from people who might not be just a few blocks from where the action is taking place?

No matter where it’s put on, it’s a show people seem to relate to it. Whether it’s kids from New York City or kids from someone else, the show touches on the same thing. It touches on life. 

Doing this show’s been something of a rite of passage for young actors. It’s been done with Matt Damon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Casey Affleck, Anna Paquin and plenty of others, and this run features Kieran Culkin, Michael Cera and Tavi Gevinson. What attracts that kind of talent?

Well, it’s a bit of a circular conversation because you can’t do a show on the West End or on Broadway without having some big names in the cast. But what I’ve found is that people who don’t want to do a play are people whose careers are just taking off—the last thing they want to do is get wrapped up for six months for theatre.  So, there’s a better chance with someone who is a very serious actor.

The show follows three kids over the course of a few days that would be almost unimaginable today. So many of their issues would be addressed by tapping on a smartphone. Do you think it depicts a lost era?

I’m not on social network, and I don’t know anything about it, but from the responses of the people who are that age right now and like the play, it seems like being alone in an apartment with a girl is still being alone in an apartment with a girl. I think the way people communicate now is very different, and that social media has made life for those of us who aren’t on social media very boring because they’re all sitting around tapping on their phones instead of talking to you, but I don’t know how the play would play out in those circumstances. I know that pot is a lot easier to find now, too. I don’t smoke anymore myself, but now it’s delivered and that whole scene has changed. 

Is there anything different for you about seeing your play on Broadway instead of other places?

It’s very thrilling. The sheer size of the house is very different, and the dynamic is different. I’d say not much of the intimacy has been lost, and the cast is so strong that it draws people in, and people relate and care, hopefully.  



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