"This Is Our Youth": The grimy lives of disaffected, Reagan-era brats

Warren and Dennis are overprivileged, undermotivated New Yorkers. Their rich parents bribe them to get lost. And they've opted out of college to major in urban slacking, partying and drugs.

The '80s habitues of Kenneth Lonergan's 1996 play "This Is Our Youth," a Direct Flight production now on at Washington Ensemble Theatre, aren't the only Reagan-era misfits to slouch across a local stage lately. But compared with Lonergan's mordant slackers, the teens in John C. Russell's "Stupid Kids" at Empty Space Theatre were cupcakes.

Lonergan (best-known for his fine indie film "You Can Count On Me") has conjured a knowing, if rambling, generational portrait in "This Is Our Youth." He's got the lingo, twisted logic and what's pathetic and intriguing about these young'uns down cold.

The play unfolds in the squalid digs of Dennis (Quinlan Corbett), a small-time dope dealer whose braggadocio and hot temper may be aggravated by his cocaine use. When old private-school pal Warren (Joe Feeney) turns up, Dennis takes him in reluctantly.

But soon he's enjoying insulting and slapping the guy around. And Warren is used to being a whipping boy. He's got a shady, abusive father, from whom he's unwisely just stolen $15,000.

The slim plot of "This Is Our Youth" is mainly an excuse for a grimy naturalism akin to Maxim Gorky's "Lower Depths" — only funnier. And it succeeds, in part.

Feeney is the linchpin of Mark Gallagher's very kinetic staging. His terrifically realized Warren is all elbows, knees and slack-jawed quirks — but, ultimately, he's smarter, deeper and more sensitive than Corbett's cocky Dennis.

This comes out mainly via Warren's awkward, deftly written seduction of a girl he fancies: Mikano Fukaya's scrappy Jessica.

Dolled up trendily, Fukaya captures Jessica's prickly vulnerability and romantic ambivalence. But with her thick Japanese accent, this actress doesn't convince you she's a self-proclaimed "Jewish American Princess." And in this case, ethnicity matters, because the play is very specific about the youths' upscale, New York-Jewish milieu.

In fact, all the acerbic, insider references to Jewishness ring false here, and need tweaking. No New Yorker, for instance, would ever call the ultimate Upper West Side deli Za-bar's. It's Zay-bar's. If you're gonna walk the walk, you also gotta talk the talk.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

Theater review

"This Is Our Youth," by Direct Flight, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through July 16 at Washington Ensemble Theatre, 608 19th Ave. E., Seattle; $10-$15 (www.washingtonensemble.org or 800-838-3006).