Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Review of Red Turnips THIS IS OUR YOUTH: Hip and High

November 5. 2015

"This is Our Youth" is about three young people living in decadent New York City during the Reagan years. Dennis Ziegler was a hot-headed, sharp-tongued drug dealer. Warren Straub was a mousy, insecure nerd who liked collecting various pop memorabilia. Jessica Goldman was the pretty but feisty and opinionated girl Warren had his eyes on. One night, Warren stole $15,000 from his father and brought the cash to Dennis' flat. While Dennis cooked up a plan to have a night of drugged debauchery with Warren, Warren thought of how he could get Jessica to like him back.

This play written by Kenneth Lonergan debuted 1996 off-Broadway with Mark Ruffalo leading the cast as Warren. It then had its West End debut in 2002, with movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Warren, Hayden Christensen as Dennis and Anna Paquin as Jessica. In its many restagings over the years, Warren had been played by Casey Affleck, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Kieran Culkin; while Dennis had been played by Matt Damon, Chris Klein and Michael Cera. 


Red Turnip Theater Company is presenting their latest project in another venue than their original home in Whitespace. It is called A_Space Gallery, located on the 5th floor of a condo building at #110 Legazpi Street, Legazpi Village, Makati, right behind Greenbelt 5. You can park in the mall and simply walk over. They call this particular show a 0.5. While the show may be smaller in scale, cast and venue, the Turnips promise that it won't be smaller in terms of artistic challenge.

It was a small room with two doors, one for the audience, and one for the actors. There was a performance area in the center, where there was a mattress and a small TV. There was a refrigerator in one corner, a pair of armchairs on one side (with a turntable beside it) and a table on the opposite side. Pillows were strewn around in a circle for the audiences to sit on. Fortunately for the older members of the audience who can't Indian sit on the floor anymore, there were also chairs provided against the walls. 

For this Red Turnips production, Nicco Manalo is Warren, Jef Flores is Dennis and Cindy Lopez is Jessica.

I know Nicco Manalo is a very good actor but I knew him only for his work in Filipino language productions. He was very good as the lead character Tabo in "Kleptomaniacs" (My Review). He deserved the Best Supporting Actor award he won for his work in the indie film "The Janitor" (My Review). I was pleasantly surprised that he can also deliver a very effective and engaging performance in flawless American English. Manalo imbued his Warren that naive damaged persona which makes audiences root for him. His tender scenes with Jessica were endearing. His bullying scenes with Dennis were heartrending. 

Jef Flores is really having a banner year this year. I only saw him in a lead role early this year in Repertory Philippines "4000 Miles" (My Review). I thought that was star-making performance for this new actor. This was followed by ensemble work in "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" (My Review) and "The Normal Heart" (My Review). He is also the Prince in the Rep's currently running production of "Snow White". This guy can really nail those long wordy monologues! In "4000 Miles", he had a lengthy 10-minute monologue, which was impressive. In "Youth", Flores topped that with another mad motor-mouth monologue of 15 minutes or more, which ran the gamut of crazy emotions from Alpha male to nervous wreck, as Dennis went "high with fear."

Cindy Lopez really had to work harder to get her edge in since her role was much smaller and less showy compared to the two guys. Her first scene with Warren was very well-written and delightfully performed together by Lopez with Manalo. That dancing scene was beautiful and romantic. I was maybe looking for a bit more energy from her, as her delivery of lines was rather flat and singsong. Jessica's second scene with Warren was a downer, very puzzling and disappointing for me. However, this may be more a matter about the script than Lopez' acting. 

This is only the second play Topper Fabregas directed, the first being "Rabbit Hole" (My Review) also by Turnips. Fabregas revealed that he and co-Turnip Jenny Jamora had long wanted to play Warren and Jessica themselves. (I personally think they can still totally pull this off.) It must have been quite a challenge to block the action in this type of intimate venue where the audience surrounds the actors. After tonight's press preview, some adjustments may still have to be made about the location of the props, which may not be easily seen by everyone in the audience. For example, from where I was sitting, I could not see the sculpture on top of the refrigerator, which turned out to be critical in the story. 

Like it or not, the script contains a lot of profanity and talk about drugs, as is already typical with "modern" youth dramas, it seems. There was actual smoking (real pot or not, I would not know) and a scene of cocaine preparation, so this show is not for the very young. 

Despite being set in the 1980s, the angst we see onstage can also be so millennial, which is why it works now as it did back then. The musical choices were perfect, making that dancing scene so poignant. The lighting by Joseph Matheu was so subtly done, but the mood was greatly enhanced by it. The actors Manalo and Flores are already at the top of their game even before premier night. This is an funny and engrossing theater experience the way it was executed by Fabregas and his crew.


"This is Our Youth" will have shows on November 6, 7, 8, 20, 21 and 22, 2015. It will have 8 pm shows on Friday and Saturdays, with 4 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Venue is the A Space_Gallery, 5th floor, 110 Legazpi Street, Makati (Opposite Greenbelt 5). Get your tickets via TicketWorld ( or call 8919999). You can also email for more info.

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