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Is This Our Duke?

Durham's Manbites Dog Theater Company is presenting a production of Kenneth Lonergan's This is Our Youth. The play is set in 1982 in New York City when decadence reigned among the young and when doing drugs, listening to music and having sex were the ideal activities for a Saturday night. The play revolves around the life of an adolescent named Warren, played by 1998 Duke graduate Kevin Poole. Haunted by his sister's murder, Warren suffers low self-esteem because his best friend, Dennis, constantly insults his abilities to do things. When Warren likes a girl, Dennis--portrayed by Adam Saunders--graciously points out Warren's shortcomings in wooing the fairer sex, though he does help to set him up. Dennis plans an evening filled with cocaine and hopes to help Warren pursue Jessica.

Jessica is a young, opinionated intellectual complete with tall pointed-toe boots and shoulder pads. When alone with Jessica, Warren has the opportunity to reveal his true colors and win her heart. The story itself has the opportunity to be quite beautiful because the arc of change in Warren is apparent and exquisitely executed. Kevin Poole gets to the core of Warren's identity and what he is feeling, which makes him a pleasure to watch.

Upon the entrance of Jessica, played by Duke senior Jessica Maas, the performance becomes even more compelling as their love unfolds. The audience is truly let into the hearts of these two characters over the course of the play and in the end we suffer with them.

The least compelling part of the production is Adam Saunders. Though he has a great character to work with, he does nothing with him. Throughout the play he remains at a distance and a relationship between Dennis and Warren never really develops, but it is no fault of Poole. At one point, Dennis is sitting in a chair being quite complacent and all of the sudden he is hitting Warren without any sort of real motivation, almost robotically. His performance is complete with bad fake crying near the end. However, the play is not lost among the wreckage. Strong performances from Poole and Maas allow for the complete journey to be realized and a resolution to occur.

Overall, the production was quite strong, though it's unclear why kids would wear flannel in the early O80s or live in a dump when their wealthy parents pay their rent, but this still does not compromise the play's integrity. The superior direction of Jeff Storer has created a touching look into the lives of three college-age adults in the early 80s. It's said that plays resurface when they are once again pertinent to society, and perhaps that is the case with this production. Is this our Youth?

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