1980s rock music blared through unseen speakers upon entering the apartment of Dennis Ziegler, as he slammed his door and stumbled into his magazine and solo cup strewn bed. Of course, it wasn’t an actual apartment, but the black-box-esque Newman Studio encouraged the audience to participate in the action of the play, feeling like we were sitting on the couch watching Dennis dance around his apartment to scratchy records, maybe even sharing his blunt.
Basement Arts’s production of “This Is Our Youth,” written by Kenneth Lonergan and directed by School of Music, Theatre & Dance junior Skylar Siben, detailed the lives of three teenagers in the ’80s exploring love, drugs, family relationships and the terrifying inescapable reality of adulthood in the best possible way.
The three-person play portrayed the complicated relationships among teenagers engaging in new experiences and exploring the world outside of high school and their parents’ control. SMTD senior Ted Gibson’s character was the life of the party. His enigmatic performance brought humor and vivacity to an otherwise dark show. SMTD sophomore Claire Vogel and SMTD senior Bryan Chan’s characters made an adorably innocent couple, until their ultimate demise. All three of them were entangled in each other’s stories in different capacities.
With the audience surrounding the set on all sides, the intimate stage setup made the audience an active part of the show. While this aspect of the play definitely made this “slice-of-life” show feel authentic and genuine, the only downside was that it unfortunately blocked out parts of the performance to certain sections of the audience. With such an intimate, actor-driven show, seeing their reactions to each other is essential in understanding the plot and connecting with the performance.
Despite this, the staging was incredibly smart, with every detail thought through. The temperature gage doubled as the apartment intercom, the backstage door was used as the apartment entrance, the lighting beautifully signified drug usage by trading simple spotlights for an array of colors. Despite having very little scenery, the show felt utterly real. Not one eye was batted at a stool used as a fridge or a curtain signifying the bathroom because the actors worked hard to make their actions revolving around those objects lifelike. This black-box environment was the perfect setting for such a personal show.
The show itself is a fascinating one, delving into important topics that capture the experience of youth. Though the specific experiences each character goes through are not necessarily universal, their thoughts, feelings and reactions to their situations are. The connections each of the three characters form with one another are compelling and relatable, written in some of the most natural and realistic language I’ve ever witnessed. Unfortunately, some of the specific language was a little too realistic to the ’80s culture. Written in 1999 and taking place in 1982, certain parts definitely didn’t age well — namely the use of racist slurs and offensive language.
However, the majority of the sentiments still ring true today. This show beautifully portrays the trials and triumphs of being young. Though some of the characters’ lifestyle choices are unique, the attitudes and musings are relatable to everyone — whether they are remembering their youth or still living it.