Youth has its days

This story first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal, and can be viewed here.

SANTA FE, N.M. — Two upcoming shows at Santa Fe University of Art and Design will mark the first main stage productions helmed by student directors, but that’s hardly the only quality they have in common.

“This Is Our Youth” and “The Shape of Things,” through different plots and casts, explore concepts of adolescence, coming into one’s own in the modern world and facing the consequences of risky agendas.

The directors of the two dark comedies, Bryson Hatfield and Triston Pullen, respectively, recognize the connective tissue the productions share. That’s one of the main reasons the two plays are being featured as a pair at SFUAD’s Greer Garson Theatre March 22-26.

“If there’s some kind of common theme, it’s finding what happens in those (college) years,” Hatfield said. “It’s a lot about youthfulness and so much change – forced change or the choice of change.”

Adam Troyer, playing Dennis, left, and Lee Vignes, as Warren, are part of the student cast for “This Is Our Youth,” one of two plays being staged starting Wednesday at SFUAD.

“This Is Our Youth” takes place in a single setting, an apartment in Manhattan’s Upper West Side circa 1982.

“The main character, Warren Straub, steals $15,000 from his dangerous lingerie CEO-manufacturer father, then runs off to his friend Dennis Ziegler’s house, who he expects to hide him there,” Hatfield said. “They decide to buy an ounce of coke, cut it, sell it for a profit, and that’s kind of where chaos ensues.”

The play was written by Kenneth Lonergan, who recently won an Academy Award for his screenplay for “Manchester By The Sea.”

“He writes in such a way that is at one time vulgar, crass and shocking, and at another level very real,” Hatfield said. “That’s been an immense gift for us as a cast, and me as a director.”

Meanwhile, “The Shape of Our Things” explores the subjective nature of art under the guise of young love. Two 20-somethings fall for each other despite Evelyn seemingly being out of Adam’s league.

“In the end, you find out that she’s manipulated this whole lie to create this human sculpture for her MFA thesis,” Pullen said. “She changes his look, he has plastic surgery, he changes his mentality about life and the kind of man he is in society.”

Pullen said the play, written in 2001 by Neil LaBute, is as relevant as ever in 2017 because so much of American society longs for change – change, he said, that typically is sparked by artists.

“The Shape of Things” delves into the mindset of that kind of artist and the consequences of crossing the line from art to manipulation.

“My grandmother’s generation called my generation a broken generation, that we’re always trying to find something to fill the void, whether that’s a human, drugs, alcohol, sex,” Pullen said. “These are people trying to fill the void, and they’re in search of love or attention.”

The new productions represent something of a shift for a program that more typically takes on classical theater, such as Shakespeare. Students can connect on multiple levels with the plays’ characters.

“There’s been a lot of cathartic moments in this rehearsal process, which has been really beautiful to see,” Hatfield said.

“These actors are finding these characters in such a personal way because there’s such a time difference, 1982 to 2017, but it still resonates with us now and I think that it will resonate with audiences of pretty much every age.”

SFUAD students Sicily Ranieri, right, and Lee Vignes rehearse “This Is Our Youth.”

That’s not to say the shows are suitable for all audiences. “This Is Our Youth” and “The Shape of Things” are very much “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll” productions, with mature content.

“‘The Shape of Things’ is known for its driving force to be sex,” Pullen said. Hatfield alluded to Lonergan’s typically profanity-laced works.

These plays are meant to elicit laughs, but also deep contemplation.

“As a 22-year-old, almost 23-year-old, I can really resonate with this,” Hatfield said. “These characters are right at this point in my life that I am in right now, this turning point of youth, where these things happen to us that really start to set before us pathways that determine the course of our lives.”


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