This is Our Youth
The lone female character, Jessica (Michelle Lipper) is also much more than a visual gag, though her new-wave big hair and fishnet stockings look is quite a treat.

Much credit is due to Jacqueline McClintock for the initial casting and for overall direction. More so than in the plays she has directed for her own Tightrope Theatre, all the elements come together in this piece to make it an entirely satisfying evening of theatre.

Ottawa native Hopkins is captain-of-the-football team gorgeous as Dennis, a charming bully who never lets his "followers" forget that he's the one who turned them on to The Honeymooners, Frank Zappa and sushi, and who always has good pot. Roop's Warren is attractive in a subtler way, displaying a sweet ineptitude with Jessica, the girl he's "into."

The text, which is by the screenwriter of Analyze This and Analyze That, is quite wonderful, despite the bland title. (This Is Our Youth sounds to me like a play about the boys going off to fight in the Great War or some sort of cautionary tale about STDs touring high school auditoriums.) There is something of the cautionary tale to this piece, but it's done without an ounce of preachiness. When a friend - more of a contact really - of Dennis's dies of an overdose, we see him coming face to face with his mortality, but the warning is more in Dennis's own character. Here is a smart, good-looking guy with the right connections who brags about his business skills and that he would be a great film director, but who we realize may never get beyond the talking stage. I can picture him, 20 years hence (i.e. now), still living in the same sort of mattress-on-the-floor squalor, the old acolytes long since moved on, but surrounded by a new circle of adoring, drug-dependent 20 year olds.

Arbat appeared on the scene in January 1999 with a critically acclaimed version of The Glass Menagerie. They followed it up a year later with an evening of Chekhov one-acts and then went silent until now. This production proves that the little company has still got it. Let's hope we don't have to wait another three years to hear from them again.

It's a tad distressing to realize that a play set in 1982 has become a period piece. But Arbat Theatre's current production of This Is Our Youth by Kenneth Lonergan seems to relish that fact. Perhaps the most evocative element in the décor is the stack of plastic milk crates filled with record albums.

The "youth" in this play are privileged Upper West Side Jewish kids with seemingly no ambition beyond getting high, staying that way and not turning out like their parents. They have no fond memories of childhood except those attached to toys - the kind of precious memorabilia one character carries around in a suitcase. It would have been easy to be turned off by these ungrateful brats were it not for the wounded humanity we glimpse beneath the crass, smart-alecky exteriors.

The main interaction is between Dennis (Paul Hopkins) and his pet underling, Warren Straub (company founder Jeff Roop). Although I am not intimately acquainted with the spawn of Manhattan's upper crust, I felt I knew the people in this play. Between the two men, particularly, there is not a false note in the whole two acts.