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This Is Our Youth


The Kings Collective present “Lepidoptera: An exploration of Youth” as part of Sydney Fringe 2014. THIS IS OUR YOUTH by Kenneth Lonergan, at the Tap Gallery, Darlinghurst. 16-21 September.

Lepidoptera: an order of insects comprising the butterflies and moths – which in the adult state have four membranous wings, more or less covered with scales. This new Independent Theatre collective: The Kings Collective have as their core Collectives: David Harrison, Tyler Hawkins, Jai Higgs, Cecelia Peters, Scott Lee, Georgia Scott, and Megan McGlinchey.

Mission Statement:

We are young. We are tired of being small and being alone. We are tired of technology. We are thirsty for life and communication. Life means everything and it is all we have. We don’t want to be cool. We don’t want to be vague, cut-off, indifferent. We are deeply wounded and we are strong. We are passionate, we are brave, we are heartfelt, and we are sincere. We are human and we are here to tell our stories.

The King Collective is a newly formed collective of young artists who aspire to change the face of the Australian Arts landscape, to be a force of nature that is unparalleled in both work ethic and passion and to inspire the next generation of artists to do the same.

We aim to create brave, detailed, honest work and tell profound stories of human experience. We aim to challenge our audience, to bring them hope, compassion and joy and to make them feel less alone.

The King Collective have, as part of the Sydney Fringe 2014 curated and produced three plays – each with a one week season – at the Downstairs Tap Gallery space. They are not anything, if not, ambitious and do demonstrate a feet-on-the-ground work ethic and passion, indeed. Their first production was OUT OF GAS ON LOVERS LEAP, by Mark St Germain (9-14 September); followed by THIS IS OUR YOUTH, by Kenneth Lonergan (16-21 September); and next, GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES, by Rajiv Joseph (23-28 September).

THIS IS OUR YOUTH (1993), by Kenneth Lonergan, is not short of production exposures in Sydney – it has three juicy roles for three young people. The last I remember was a high profile casting with American actors, Michael Cera and Kieran Culkin, supported by Emily Barclay, at the Sydney Opera House. The play, this year, produced earlier at Stepppenwolf, Chicago, with these men in charge of their roles, has now, just, transferred onto Broadway, New York – the first time it has been on the Big White Way.

This modest production, in the relative impromptu Downstairs Tap Gallery space, is fairly impressive – no need to go to Broadway to see THIS IS OUR YOUTH well done. Earlier this year, I directed, upstairs, here, at Tap Gallery, Mr Lonergan’s, LOBBY HERO (1996), and learnt of the skill and humanity of this  American playwright/film maker, and watched audiences respond to the comedy, and poignant moral dilemmas woven throughout the ever complexing script. This play, an earlier work, is a really wonderful piece of writing too, and concerns three young people: Dennis Ziegler – 21 – (Joshua Brennan) – “a dark cult god of high school”, on the edge of the slide to a real world he might not like – a busy drug dealer and user. Warren Straub -19 – (Scott Lee) – ‘a strange barking dog of a kid with large tracts of thoughtfulness in his personality”, who has just deserted from home and his violent father, taking some $15,000 that does not belong to him, and a suitcase of his precious childhood objects collection. He takes drugs, too. He is interested in Jessica. Jessica Goldman – 19 – (Georgia Scott) – “a very nervous girl, who, despite her prickliness is basically friendly and definitely interested in Warren …” She takes drugs, as well.

The play is set in 1982, in a studio apartment on the Upper West Side of New York, belonging to Dennis, courtesy of his absent parents – in this production, designed by Tyler Hawkins, definitely low rental and drug scuzzed – a mess of distracted living. The recently elected President is Ronald Regan, and the winds of the “greed is good” Gordon Gekko era (film, WALL STREET, 1987) have just begun to shift the landscape of life for these privileged white Jewish kids, and we get to watch over a 48 hour period some defining moments, those amazing moments when an adolescent begins that miraculous metamorphosis from adolescent-‘kid’ to ‘adult’. BOYHOOD – Lepidopteran-like, indeed.

Mr Lonergan’s writing has a surface ease and joy for any actor to want to play with. Its language, sounds, to-the-ear, and feels, in-the-mouth, authentic, both, in its vocabulary and word order, and in the genuine feel of the musical rhythms, sign posted by the syntactical deliberations and clues of instruction from Mr Lonergan, and are a glittering attraction. It is, also, a deceptive camouflage. This writing allows the spry and easily satisfied actor to work on the grandstanding genius of the literacy of the writing for the characters, and one can certainly deliver an arresting good time for all of us. However, spending time below the surface ‘gleams’, the opportunities to ring the subtle life forces of change that the character is growing too, changing with, with incisive insights and sensitive guidance under the watchful eye of a patient director, one can take this work to grand depths of life-lived familiarities of truths, of all our lives – most of us were young once, Right? The Director of this production, Dan Eady, has marshalled his team through the assets of THIS IS OUR YOUTH with some alacrity.

Mr Lee as Warren, delivers a performance of some remarkable skill, and in the intimacy of this space is able to reveal a subtle journey of growth and learning, through all the hoops of the character’s trajectory, with a cinematic performance detail. It is a fairly breathtaking crafting, and a heartbreaking series of motivational reveals, going on there – simply expressed, but painfully, deeply experienced. The internal life of Warren, matching, beat by beat, the external ‘glamour’ of the wit/intelligence of the external mask of Warren, Mr Lee consummately orchestrates. ‘Warren’, was created in the original productions by Mark Ruffalo, a member of Mr Lonergan’s every artistic output. His performance in the film, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, (with Laura Linney) – is one of my cinematic performance highlights – and Mr Lee fulfils my expectations of this character, with the startling breadth of creative knowledge that Ruffalo brings to rebellious Terry, in that film – no small compliment. I last saw Mr Lee in the John Patrick Shanley play, THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW, in the Upstairs Tap Gallery space, late last year, and was similarly impressed – but with this work, am fairly blown away with admiration at his complexity and delicacy, and managed skill basics. Worth following his next offers, whatever they may be.

Too, Ms Scott, playing Jessica, manages to reveal the deeply unnerving undercurrents of this fragile young girl, while presenting the mask of indifference, and on-the-other-hand, defensive judgements, as its protecting skin. The scene between Warren and Jessica in the first act of this production of the  play is a gem of tender reveal, both actors in a relaxed simpatico, ‘reading’ each other, seemingly with great confidence, delicately, ‘feeding’ their mutual creativity in beautifully improvised, ‘happening’ moments, taking Warren and Jessica through the horrible shoals of adolescent courtship, and out the door to the Pent House Suite of the Plaza Hotel – there goes some of that $15,000. Totally rewarding to watch.

“What you’re like now has nothing to do with what you’re going to be like. Like right now you’re all like this rich little pot-smoking burnout rebel, but ten years from now you’re gonna be like a plastic surgeon reminiscing about how wild you used to be. You’ll definitely be a completely different person. Everything you think will be different, and the way you act, and all your most passionately held beliefs are going to be completely different, and its really depressing. Because it just basically invalidates whoever you are right now. You know what I mean? It just makes your whole self at any given point in your life seem so completely dismissable. So it’s like, what is the point?”

‘Like the last year of high school, I suddenly realised that all those weird kids I grew up with were like well on their way to becoming really weird adults. And it was pretty scary, you know? Like you see a crazy kid, and you realise, he’s never going to grow out of it. He’s a fucked-up crazy kid and he’s just gonna be a fucked-up crazy adult with like a ruined life.”

Mr Brennan’s Dennis, gives an energetic and frenetic impression of the weird fucked-up kid realising, in the actual face-up to an actual drug overdose death of a ‘friend’, that he might just be one of those weird fucked-up adults. The difficulty of this play for the actors is too keep the objective head of the actor ‘tuned’ in to the accuracies required by Mr Lonergan’s writing, and still presenting a subjective frenzied set of drug states belonging to the truths of the character to reap a complete audience reward. The pyrotechnic management, the technical control, by Mr Brennan is finely tuned, however self-consciously so, and resultedly, and in contrast to the other two performers, his inner life, the life force of character motivations, causes and affects, of Dennis’ self, are not so completely available to us – even attached.  The ego of the actor is never completely submerged to serve the character – and, although Mr Brennan’s work is impressive, it is relatively surface, and, in this present company, it rings a little, contrastedly, hollow.

In its modest scale, in this intimate space, The Kings Collective have justified, to me, their ambition. Even if not all the treasures: the verbal comedy, the plunging emotional turning points and metaphors are brought to the audience’s attention, consistently. This was one of my more enjoyable nights at the theatre this year. I did not see their first production last week, but look forward to this week’s, despite the title of the play: GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES.

Mr Lonergan’s Pulitzer nominated play THE WAVERLEY GALLERY (1999), is a very personal evocation of the mental demise of a loved one. THE STARRY MESSENGER was written in 2009. News that a new film, with Matt Damon, is due to begin shooting – excellent.

P.S. A complaint to the The Kings Collective. Please, please Give your  WRITERS, the source of your inspiration, bio-graphical space. You had two pages of wasted space in your program and NO writers’ background. No writer, no play. In the beginning was the word etc, etc…….