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The young and the restless

THEATER: "This Is Our Youth" 

The young and the restless

Kenneth Lonergan's "This Is Our Youth" is an appropriate choice for the first theatrical project produced by new local art performance troupe Method Machine. The play has become one of the go-to scripts for Gen X/Y actors looking to establish some cred. (Young Hollywood luminaries Matt Damon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Casey Affleck, Hayden Christensen, Anna Paquin, and Alison Lohman have performed in various stagings.) And its nihilistic, yet thoughtful, concepts fall right in line with an upstart art collective tasked with pushing beyond conventional thinking. It's a smart choice and a smart production, with just a few bumps along the way.

One of Method Machine's stated goals is to stage performances in unconventional venues. It has certainly done that with "Youth," which over its 10-show run is slated to play in a hair salon, a South Wedge bar, and a business office. The show I saw took place at Fusion Salon on Park Avenue, and the group did an amazing job transforming the fairly compact space into a fully functioning theater - the intentionally messy bedroom set was delineated by a low, cut-off sheet rock "wall," and the audience sat in stools, office chairs, barber chairs, and even shampooing chairs (which, come to think of it, were even more comfortable than the standard stiff theater seats).

It's easy to see why actors love "This Is Our Youth." It features only three characters and virtually no action whatsoever, making chemistry and rhythm vitally important to its success. The Method Machine featured plenty of the former, something less of the latter.

The story focuses on three young adults living in New York City in 1982. Stoner-slacker Dennis's peaceful day of watching shitty television in his shitty apartment is ruined when his irritating friend Warren invites himself over after getting kicked out of his father's house for being, well, a stoner-slacker. But Warren didn't leave empty-handed; he relieved his father of $15,000 in cash Warren found in one of his dad's briefcases. Suddenly Dennis is less annoyed by Warren's arrival, and the two discuss how to spend some of the money. Option 1: drugs; option 2: girls; option 3: drugs and girls. They ultimately choose the third option, and invite over Dennis's unseen girlfriend and her friend Jessica, the object of Warren's affections. Dennis and his girl take some of the money to buy drugs while Warren and Jessica stay behind to get to know one another. And that, predictably, is where things get complicated.

The play's first act sets up the fascinating characters and weaves in even more interesting themes. Dennis is a raging egotist and bully who largely keepsWarren around to abuse so that he can boost his own confidence, and avoid his reality as the rudderless product of a well-to-do family and a controlling, emasculating mother. Warren is a needy, totally self-conscious gnat haunted by the murder of his older sibling and unable to let go of any part of his past because of it. And Jessica is a young fashion student wise beyond her years philosophically, but painfully naive when it comes to real-life interactions. Through various conversations and conflicts the trio addresses (or avoids) issues of holding on to the past, forming a personal identity, sloughing off former selves, the failures of previous generations, and the crippling malaise that comes with being a kid given everything and asked for little in return.

The three Method Machine members are the stars of the show, and have known each other for years. Those real-life bonds are evident in the on-stage dynamics. Michael Francis O'Connor is powerful as Dennis. He seethes across the stage, always a split second from flying into a rage over the most meaningless, unintentional triggers. His barely suppressed rancor occasionally, yet believably, slips into moments of extreme vulnerability. David Henderson infuses Warren with an abundance of awkward tics - you fully believe that this character is totally incapable of any kind of adult relationship with anyone. And Marcy J. Savastano maximizes her limited stage time as Jessica with her natural, endearing performance.

The play struggles a bit in its pacing and rhythms. Since there is really no action to speak of, it's solely up to the actors and the dialogue to keep things moving, and there were patches where things started to lag, especially in the second act. A laconic pace actually reflects the directionless teens' reality almost perfectly, but it makes for a less exciting viewing experience.

This Is Our Youth

Method Machine

Through February 23

Various locations

877-865-1896, myspace.com/methodmachine

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