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Columbus production of ‘This is Our Youth’ features all-Ohio State cast

John Connor (Dennis), Jesse Massaro (Warren) and Erin Mellon (Jessica) in Warehouse Theatre's "This Is Our Youth." Credit: Kristofer Green

John Connor (Dennis), Jesse Massaro (Warren) and Erin Mellon (Jessica) in Warehouse Theatre’s “This Is Our Youth.”
Credit: Kristofer Green

In its current incarnation, Warehouse Theatre Company has been producing for less than a year, and that youth is echoed in the theme of its upcoming show which stars three Ohio State students.

Jesse Massaro, Erin Mellon and John Connor from the Department of Theatre are set to portray the three lead characters of the production’s central Ohio debut of “This Is Our Youth” under the direction of Kristofer Green, also a founding member of the company.

“Part of what the play explores is the sort of paralysis young adults go through in the transition period between adolescence and adulthood and the realization that expectations don’t always match reality,” Green said in an email. “I decided to produce the play this season, partly because of the renewed attention the play is receiving with its Broadway debut run starring Michael Cera and Kieran Culkin, but mostly because I know this play still speaks to a generation clinging to their youth, afraid to take that next step into adulthood because it is too frightening.”

Written by Kenneth Lonergan, “This Is Our Youth” premiered off-Broadway in 1996 and was revived on Broadway in 2014. The play follows 24 hours in the lives of Warren Straub (Massaro), a 19-year-old who has stolen $15,000 from his emotionally and physically abusive tycoon father; Dennis Ziegler (Connor), Warren’s drug-dealing friend who helps him figure out what to do with his stolen cash; and Jessica Goldman (Erin Mellon), Warren’s love interest.

“It’s kind of like a coming-of-age story for Warren,” said Massaro, a fourth-year, who most recently starred as Buddy Fidler in OSU’s production of “City of Angels.”

Warren, who was kicked out of the house for smoking marijuana, stole the money out of rebellion. Dennis, at first dumbfounded to hear what Warren did, soon helps Warren devise a plan on how to use the money.

“We come up with this scheme to use some of the money to get some cocaine for this drug deal, and we’re just going to try and turn a profit before we give it all back to him (Warren’s father),” Massaro said.

Set in a small studio apartment in Manhattan’s Upper West Side in March 1982, the play examines a particular generation of young people growing up in a specific cultural situation in New York, Green said.

“They’re children of prosperous Jewish families and I think one of the most important and interesting dynamics in the play is the relationship these characters have with their parents,” he said.

The play explores these relationships and how the three main characters interact with their world.

Growing up in the time of Richard Nixon, the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, the characters feel as if there is no place for their particular philosophy and the liberalism movement after the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, Green said.

Mellon, a third-year who portrayed Coco in the Department of Theatre’s production of “Zombie Prom,” said she was able to relate to her character, Jessica, because of a universal problem many young people experience.

“We all struggle with insecurities and we cope with them in various ways, and I completely relate to Jessica’s defensiveness,” Mellon said in an email. “I think at one point or another, we’ve also struggled with our friends and our own identities, specifically wanting to be liked, but also not wanting to sacrifice who you are in the process, which is a major issue with Jessica.”

Because of the play’s relatability, Massaro said the goal in the rehearsal room was to make the characters as realistic as possible.

“We wanted to not try to produce anything or make it fake,” he said. “The show is really based in realism completely and it’s very conversational, so Erin, John and I just wanted in the rehearsal space to look at each other, connect and just listen.”

Massaro and Mellon said the chemistry between the three actors was instant because of their common backgrounds at the Department of Theatre and having known and worked with each other for the past three years.

“I think it’s amazing that three kids from OSU can headline a show in Columbus,” Mellon said. “I think it reflects well on the Theatre Department and shows Columbus just what we can be capable of on a broader scale.”

Green said he thinks the Department of Theatre gave all three actors the tools to accentuate their natural talent.

“What has been interesting is watching these actors, who are all not much older than the characters they are portraying, really find the nuance and substance that make each character a fleshed out human being,” he said.

Massaro said he thinks the play explores themes that all university students have dealt with, making it a “rare opportunity” to see characters in their early twenties given so much stage time.

“It’s about finding who you are, who your friends are and that underlying unrest of not knowing how your life is going to be,” he said. “This play explores the challenges we go through and the victories we have.”

“This Is Our Youth” has a two-hour runtime and is set to open Thursday at the MadLab Theatre and Gallery. Nine shows will be performed between Thursday and Jan. 17, with varying show times at 2, 7 and 8 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased at Warehouse Theatre’s website.

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