Karen Miller and I saw this play on Broadway on 8/25. It’s a play from 1996 by Kenneth Lonergan, being done on Broadway for the first time. This production comes from Steppenwolf in Chicago, it’s starring Michael Cera as Warren, Kieran Culkin as Dennis, and Tavi Gevinson as Jessica. It takes place in New York in the Upper West Side apartment of Dennis. Dennis and Warren are both losers, but Dennis feels superior. Warren is a loveable loser, Dennis is an asshole. Jessica is a nice young woman, she’s the subject of Warren’s crush. There’s not much of a plot, it’s mostly the two guys bickering with each other, and Warren and Jessica trying to connect.
Here are the first lines of the play, courtesy of a preview on Google books. Warren buzzes Dennis on his intercom.
WARREN: Yo, Dennis. It’s me, Warren.
DENNIS: What do you want?
WARREN: Yo, let me up. (He arrives.) Yo, Denny. Hey.
DENNIS: What’s with the suitcase?
WARREN: Nothing…. What are you doing?
WARREN: What are you watching?
DENNIS: Lock the door.
WARREN: What are you watching?
DENNIS: Nothing. What do you want?
That sets the tone for the show. The play is two and a half hours long, and it’s amazing that Lonergan can sustain interest with such aimless characters. But he does, I think because he includes just enough drama, and more importantly, because he genuinely cares about the people he’s put onstage.
My favorite lines in the show:
DENNIS: How could you mess that up so fast? What kind of talent for misery do you have?
WARREN: I don't know. I guess I'm pretty advanced.
Gevinson was sweet as Jessica. Her scene dancing with Cera was one of the highlights of the show, her dancing was hilarious. Plus to paraphrase *All About Eve* (a movie I quote nearly every day), it’s a revelation to have a 18-year old character played by a 18-year old actress. Her name rang a bell with me - - I looked her up, and it turns out I read a profile of her in the New Yorker four years ago, about her and her fashion blog. She had fans from Lagerfeld to Wintour and beyond. When she was 14. And now she’s an actor. It says on Wikipedia that 2014-15 is a gap year for her, before she starts school at NYU in 2015. How many kids star in a Broadway show during their gap year?
Culkin was very good as Dennis. It’s a tricky part – - the guy is an asshole, but there has to be something appealing about him. You have to feel that in some way he’s worthy of Warren’s friendship. Culkin achieves this.
Cera was brilliant as Warren. He had the whole package: the line readings were priceless, he’s a brilliant physical actor, he has spot-on coming timing, and he had wonderful chemistry with the other actors. In brief, he held the stage. He’s wonderful.
The most impressive moment in his performance was a moment when he was offstage. I’ve become more in tune to audience reactions in the last few years, maybe since I’ve been taking my role as a critic more seriously (meaning, since I started writing a review of every show I see). There was a moment in the show when Warren was alone in the apartment and Jessica arrived downstairs - - he talked with her on the intercom and buzzed her in. He went into a frenzy of cleaning up the apartment (slightly) and then went offstage to the bathroom for about ten seconds. About five seconds into that ten seconds, a fair number of people in the audience chuckled. I imagine that happened because we were all giddy with anticipation of how things would go for Warren and Jessica - - and we felt like that because the playwright wrote it that way, and because Cera was doing such a good job playing the character. I remember Siskel and Ebert reviewing *Prizzi’s Honor* - - they showed a clip where Jack Nicholson thinks about something and turns his back to the camera for a long moment. Either Siskel or Ebert said that it was proof of what a supreme actor he is, that he can act with his back turned. Cera has surpassed Nicholson: he’s acting even when he’s offstage.