In real time, a half-second isn't all that long - roughly the amount of time it takes to swallow - but, on stage, it's surprising how long it can feel.
My Verona Productions' latest work, a presentation of Kenneth Lonergan's dramatic comedy This Is Our Youth, isn't bad. Lonergan's play has some beautiful, searching monologues, and the actors appear to be feeling the lines that they speak; the show is sincere. But Sunday night's preview of the production was lacking the spark and crispness that Lonergan's dialogue requires to be pulled off effectively, and the blame for that lies in those half-seconds.
Whether this was due to the actors' uncertainty over their lines or a fault in the direction is open to debate, but the timing of the dialogue didn't have the ebb and flow of real life; for much of the production, an actor would read his or her line, and then there would be a slight, but noticeable, pause before the other actor responded. (The pause was generally accompanied by the actor breaking eye contact and taking the briefest of moments to either shake his head or look at the floor, which hints at a lack of confidence, or perhaps simply nerves.) The dialogue sounded like dialogue, not conversation, and so a general staginess lingered over This Is Our Youth. Many of the show's problems can be fixed with a little tightening of the cues; it's not as if the entire show suffers from these time lapses. But for now, those half-seconds are making the difference between an adequate production and an indifferent one.
When the actors do get a rhythm going, the show, to a large extent, works. Set in 1982, This Is Our Youth concerns three dissatisfied, and often disaffected, young people - Warren (C.J. Langdon), Dennis (Justin Marxen), and Jessica (Rachel DeShon) - who are, in Lonergan's universe, searching for meaning in what they see as a world deprived of meaning. The characters - the men especially - discuss their plans for life, yet, as with Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, are too aimless (or perhaps just too high) to do much about them. (The show is like Waiting for Godot for stoners.) Lonergan's script is pointed and wise, and he writes marvelous, telling dialogue; Dennis' Act II monologue about all the things he's planning to become - a director, a "sports guy" - is a heartbreaking look inside a young man who isn't much of anything, and who knows he probably never will be.
The script is the best thing about My Verona's production of it, and director Tristan Tapscott and his actors appear to know it; Langdon, Marxen, and DeShon treat their material with proper respect and earnestness. Marxen knows how to use his voice - which cracks and bends like a pubescent teen's - to impressive comic effect (it makes him sound continually exasperated), and he reads his lines convincingly. You wish there were more variety in the readings themselves - even after smoking a joint or swigging down what must be a gallon of booze, Dennis seems pretty unflappable - but Marxen is endearing and even, in the end, touching.
Langdon is very nicely cast as a teen who feels more than he'd ever reveal - he's a good-natured and even guileless thief and drug-dealer - and DeShon gives the impression of a confused young woman who's disappearing right before your eyes; the two form a sweetly tenuous bond.
When the three speak, you're caught up in This Is Our Youth. When they converse, the actors' hesitancy and mild discomfort is evident, which is compounded by the static staging; there are numerous draggy scenes in which the actors are motionless and the dialogue isn't captivating enough to compensate for the lack of movement. (A scene when Warren and Dennis discuss the financial complexities of an impending drug deal went on for so long that I had completely lost touch with what they were talking about.) In the end, My Verona's production is a bit stiff. Thankfully, though, Lonergan's fine script deserves to be staged; this This Is Our Youth might not offer a lot in the way of traditionally satisfying theatre, but it plays like a perfectly acceptable Intro to Directing project.
This Is Our Youth will be performed Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 9:30 p.m., and Sunday at 4 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 and available by calling (309)786-7733 extension 2.