The Market for Youth

by Dr. Gina M. Di Salvo

Before us is a dumpy studio apartment with a record player and a mattress. This set asks us to consider where This Is Our Youth takes place. Is it still an era of LPs or is it the curated habitat of a contemporary hipster? It turns out that Dennis’s apartment is designed to advertise his practiced disaffection, but the record player is a time travelling device meant to shoot us back to early Reagan-era New York. It’s 1982, the economy is rotten, and yesterday’s hippies are now bankers and lawyers. But whereas those former idealists sold out at the right time and at the right price, their kids are spending their youth fast and cheap.

As soon as the play begins, Dennis and Warren burn through their stock of vile realism. They insult, steal, plot, smoke, and fight. No real grown-ups appear on stage, but our anti-heroes hide their embarrassing vulnerability behind a parade of the worst stock characters plucked from corporate America, coke-dusted alleys, and their parents’ living rooms. Through their best efforts of posturing bravado, we meet the grieving abuser, the unhinged boyfriend, the mocking socialite, the apathetic criminal, and the calculating broker who trades and cashes in on any available asset. These roles are still an awkward fit for these boys, the fallen children of Upper West Side privilege. Though their childhood was marked by expensive toys, their adolescence lacked any model of generosity. Kindness, for some time now, has been in short supply.

What Dennis and Warren lack in their knowledge and ability of kindness, they make up for in their shrewd navigation of market value, an obsession that links the ‘80s to the present moment. If they have learned one thing from the absent, apathetic, and abusive adults in their lives, it’s that there is a market for everything – for lingerie, for art, for upper-class charity work, for drugs, for memorabilia. They might not always be clear on the actual cash value of the commodity, but they know they can liquidate sentimental assets if necessary or even if just for shits and grins. In this crude economy, there is even a market for human affection and affirmation. For it, one character will pay a thousand dollars and the other will trade his tears. It turns out that the market value for kindness is actually quite high, an unsurprising metric given its lack of circulation and desperate but hidden demand.