Students will flip roles — literally — in senior project production

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Friends have long used a simple coin flip to settle arguments. Can’t agree which movie to see? Flip a coin.

On Jan. 27, Jacob Osborne ’16 and Jamie Bogyo ’16 will continue this tradition, not to decide which movie to see, but to determine what role they will be playing in Osborne’s senior project in American studies, “This Is Our Youth.”

The play, written by Kenneth Lonergan in 1996, follows three desperately confused college-aged youths living on New York’s Upper West Side as they live through a strange 48 hours. Warren Straub is a dejected 19-year-old who steals $15,000 from his abusive lingerie-tycoon father while Dennis Ziegler is his charismatic domineering drug-dealing friend who helps him put the money to “good use.” Jessica Goldman, the anxiously insightful young woman Warren yearns for, completes the trio of lost young souls.

Murray Biggs, adjunct associate professor of theater studies, will direct the production, which will have performances Jan. 22-23 and Jan. 27-30 at the Off Broadway Theater, 41 Broadway. In an unusual twist for an undergraduate production, Osborne and Bogyo will be alternating roles over the run, including a performance where they will flip a coin right before the show to determine who plays which role. Lucy Fleming ’16 will play Jessica.

Biggs praised the work ethic of the three actors and joked that he often feels he is directing two different productions simultaneously.

“This trade between actors happens occasionally in the higher reaches of the profession, but I for one have never heard of it in a student production, even at the graduate level,” he said.

In an email to friends and family, Osborne said he immediately fell in love with the story when he read it and has spent hundreds of hours “talking, dreaming, agonizing, and laughing” about the two young men in the play.

“I ultimately chose to work on it because of its overt wit, its subtle sadness, and its deep humanity: Lonergan portrays versions of youthful anxiety and paralysis in the face of adulthood that land extremely close to home for me, and it is my hope that the show will have great resonance on a campus that is brimming with frantic young adults trying to secure their perfect futures, both personal and global,” he explained.

While Osborne has enjoyed learning two parts, he said that the cast has had to overcome a few obstacles. For instance, Osborne noted, he and Bogyo have different interpretations of the characters, thus requiring different blocking and treating each version as its own production. Osborne also said they worked hard to differentiate the two roles because their characters would have “noticeable traces of the other,” especially between rehearsals.

“Lastly, this is a conversation play that survives entirely on its rich, subtle, naturalistic dialogue, and merely memorizing one character’s lines would have taken more time than the average acting assignment,” he explained. “We’ve needed to memorize lines for two leads, which is almost the entire play. There are more phrases and sentences bouncing around inside my head right now than maybe at any other time in my life!”

“This Is Our Youth” originally premiered Off Broadway in 1996 and was later revived in 2014 on Broadway. Lonergan was praised in a New York Times review of the revival for his ability to capture the sense of being lost as adolescence ended: “You may remember that this is what it feels like to be on the cusp of adulthood with a whole wide world waiting to eat you up,” the reviewer wrote.

Tickets are free and available online.

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