This Is Our Youth Criticism
by Kenneth Lonergan

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Wendy Perkins

(Drama for Students)

Anna Paquin and Jake Gyllenhaal in a 2002 production of This Is Our Youth Published by Gale Cengage

Perkins is a professor of American and English literature and film. In this essay, she traces the development of one of the central characters in the play as he takes the first steps toward adulthood.

At the beginning of Lonergan's play This Is Our Youth, twenty-one-year-old Dennis Ziegler tells his nineteen-year-old friend Warren Straub, who has just stolen fifteen thousand dollars from his father, "Nobody can stand to have you around because you're such an annoying loudmouthed little creep, and now you're like some kind of fugitive from justice? What is gonna happen to you, man?"

Although Dennis's assessment of his friend is characteristically harsh, Warren often proves himself to be quite annoying, a trait intensified by his decision to hole up in Dennis's apartment until he can figure out what to do about his father's money. He also wonders what will happen to him when his father finds out that his money is missing. Warren, along with Dennis, never thinks much beyond the next few days, which are often viewed through a haze of marijuana smoke. By the end of the play, however, Warren will emerge from his self-induced fog, as he begins to make a thoughtful assessment of the characters of those around him. This new awareness of his world and his place in it will mark the beginning of his transition into adulthood.

Both Warren and Dennis are the spoiled, rootless offspring of Upper West Side elitist parents who have written them off as essentially worthless members of society. Robert Brustein, in his review for the New Republic, writes that Lonergan is a "penetrating cultural historian" who has realistically depicted "the aimlessness, the vacuity, and the emotional deadness" of these youths.

In her review for American Theatre, Pamela Renner notes an important difference, however, between the two main characters and their parents. Renner notes that Warren and Dennis "both know that they are running out of excuses." And, she says, "they don't mistake their own disaffection for moral authenticity; it's just a way of gaining some breathing room until they figure out what they want." They are determined not to become just like their parents. They reject the false philanthropy of Dennis's mother, who, Warren insists, is "a bleeding-heart dominatrix with like a hairdo," and the greed of Warren's father, who is involved in business deals with the mob.

At the beginning of the play, Warren has no idea what he wants, other than the money that he has just stolen from his father. He steals it initially to make his father "pay" for kicking him out of the house and for emotionally and physically abusing him for so many years. Once he has it, he is not sure what to do with it, other than to buy a few bottles of champagne and some drugs and, he hopes, lure girls to an expensive suite at the Plaza Hotel for a night of partying.

Warren knows that without the money, he is not likely to get a date. He illustrates his penchant for disaster not only when he steals money that his father most likely got from gangsters but also when he destroys Dennis's girlfriend's sculpture. Dennis underlines this trait when he asks, "How emblematic of your personality is it that you walk into a room for ten minutes and break the exact item calculated to wreak the maximum possible amount of havoc?" He determines Warren to be "a total troublemaker."

Warren has a long list of other faults, as Dennis continually points out. Dennis notes that Warren is not very bright, which he has proved by stealing his father's money, and has little to say unless he is asked a direct question. Warren's inability to establish his own identity has prompted him to adopt Dennis's habits and style, which others, including Dennis, recognize as blatant hero worship. These traits have prevented him from attracting girls, a fact to which Dennis often calls attention, until Warren has fifteen thousand in cash ready to spend on a night of partying.

Warren soon discovers, however, that the...

(The entire section is 6,450 words.)