Peter Travers on 'This Is Our Youth': Hollywood Is Alive and Well on Broadway

Michael Cera shines in the livewire revival of Kenneth Lonergan's 1982 play

Kieran Culkin, Tavi Gevinson and Michael Cera of 'This Is Our Youth.' Credit: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Starring Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, Tavi Gevinson
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Three-and-a-Half Stars

Hollywood is alive and well on Broadway. The livewire Broadway revival of Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth is good enough to make a new generation shout, This is our play! What a kick that the most urgent show in New York about coming of age is set in 1982 and was first staged in the 1990s. This Is Our Youth feels as hilarious and heartfelt as the day Lonergan crafted it. Michael Cera, in a smashing, award-caliber Broadway debut, plays Warren Straub, 19, all hot-wired nerve endings as he watches his life go up in weed and burning animosity toward his Reagan-era daddy. Warren has just stolen $15,000 from the old man, prompting his bullying drug dealer buddy Dennis Ziegler (a fire-and-ice Kieran Culkin) to call Warren a "moron" and worse. Both boys are sons of privilege and their resentment is palpable. The play, taking place in Dennis' Upper West Side apartment, is mostly them talking funny shit to hide the hurt roiling inside. The one crucial interruption comes from Jessica Goldman (Tavi Gevinson), a skittish teen queen who becomes the target of Warren's charmingly clumsy attempts at seduction. I'll say no more. That's because Lonergan, best know to film junkies for You Can Count on Me and the Margaret, says everything with vibrant grace and grit. I'd seen the play in 1996 with Mark Ruffalo (iconic), Josh Hamilton and Missy Yager and in 2002 with Jake Gyllenhaal, Hayden Christensen and Anna Paquin. But the new cast, directed with unerring intelligence and wit by Anna D. Shapiro, reimagines the play for right now without changing a word. Yup, it is some kind of miracle. Culkin (Igby Goes Down) sparks fireworks, especially in a spinning, coke-fueled monologue in Act II. It's star-is-born time for Gevinson, a teen fashion blogger who impressed as the confused bff of Julia Louis-Dreyfus' daughter in Enough Said. What Gevinson lacks in stage technique she makes up for with her full emotional commitment to the role. And Cera, inhabiting the part inside and out, does not make a false move. Lonergan couldn't hope for a better cast to bring out the humor and heartbreak in his play. This Is Our Youth catches the growing pains of three characters in the exhilarating act of inventing themselves.