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'This Is Our Youth' review: Michael Cera in deep slacker comedy

Michael Cera plays the awkward, anxious Warren in

Michael Cera plays the awkward, anxious Warren in "This is Our Youth." Credit: Brigitte Lacombe

There are just three characters in "This Is Our Youth" and three gifted, demographically hot-button actors onstage in this Broadway premiere of Kenneth Lonergan's 1996 slacker comedy.

And yet, as the deceptively shaggy story unwinds in a single one-room crash pad, we don't just get to know these three privileged, directionless offspring of successful Upper West Side Jewish parents in 1982. Thanks to the playwright's meticulously hand-picked insights and Anna D. Shapiro's tight yet seemingly easygoing direction, we somehow feel we have spent a couple of amusing and ultimately painful hours with an entire world of offstage parents, drug dealers and friends of friends.

This is the pleasure and the wonder of Lonergan's memory play about ungainly, stoned, barely post-adolescent New York kids at the start of the Reagan years, at the cusp of the just-say-no era and the shameless moneyed '80s.

If memory serves, the original production swirled around the emotional journey of the train wreck of a boy-man named Warren, astonishingly embodied by Mark Ruffalo. This time, the energies bounce more equally into a restlessly uncontainable power play about three young people with unknowable futures.

The hapless Warren -- dropout son of a self-made lingerie baron with criminal friends -- is portrayed with profound, floppy sweetness by Michael Cera. Kieran Culkin is commanding yet vulnerable as the alpha-dog Dennis, the drug dealer whose parents pay for his apartment to get him out of the house. Tavi Gevinson, teen fashion-blogging superstar in her stage debut, is all smart head and dangling legs and, despite some vocal strain, a real presence as the fashion student desired by Warren.

Warren arrives at Dennis' under-decorated apartment (designed with a meticulously self-conscious lack of style by Todd Rosenthal) with $15,000 he just stole from his father. And, thus, we have a caper, a drug deal, a night of wise-yet-innocent sex and much extremely funny yelling on the telephone.

In some ways, this is merely a sociological snapshot, a thinly plotted visit to another generation's screwed-up youth. And yet Lonergan has created three surprising character studies -- complete with individual peculiarities and universal problems -- that find genuine life onstage again.

There is much roughhousing, along with free-floating anxieties and a hoary old comic-horror scene about a clumsy guy and a costly pile of cocaine. Ultimately, each of the lost children has a monologue that asks questions so interesting that we wish we could watch them grow up.

WHAT "This Is Our Youth"

WHERE Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.

INFO $35-$135; 212-239-6200;

BOTTOM LINE Sweet and painful slacker comedy

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