THIS IS OUR YOUTH Doe-eyed and dissolute. Marya Sea Kaminski

This Is Our Youth
Direct Flight at WET's Little Theatre
Through July 16.

This is that kind of play—twentysomething lads in a thrashed New York apartment that's seen its share of sex, drugs, and records played too loudly at odd hours. The audience files in to watch an actor on the couch, talking to himself in the gray-blue haze of a television screen. By the end, a mafia-mogul father is pissed, someone is dead (it's not whom you'd expect), hundreds of dollars' worth of cocaine has been ground into the carpet, and nothing is resolved or settled except our intuition that youth is wasted on the young.

Despite its clichés, This Is Our Youth is a piercing study in self-defeatism, abusive friendship, and girl trouble. Solid acting, capable direction (Mark Gallagher, who directed Hedwig and the Angry Inch), and gallows humor keep our attention through two and a half hours of bad relationships, accidents, and mistakes. Warren the rich waif shows up uninvited at his friend's (and dealer's) apartment with a bag of pot, a suitcase full of weird collectables, and $15,000 that he's stolen from his father's bedroom. Warren (the doe-eyed and really, really good Joe Feeney) is a heartbreaking character—an unloved, self-flagellating dork who drops valuables and ruins parties.

Despite his best efforts, everything he touches turns to shit, and it's only sometimes his fault. His friend Dennis is an abusive, self-centered maniac, his father is a wealthy mess, and his love interest is too young and conflicted to enjoy his sweet, odd company. Every deal goes south and we're left much as we came, nervously wondering what good can come of these awful circumstances. BRENDAN KILEY

One Flea Spare

Tanja Productions at Richard Hugo House

Through July 9.

There's just no excuse for a poorly affected accent. Not from Paltrow, not from Zellweger, and not from well-meaning regional theater performers with day jobs. In One Flea Spare, set in 1665's plague-ridden London-town, the cast's brave but grossly ill-advised attempts at the Queen's English produce a strange combo of Madonna-style Anglophile lilt, Jerry Falwell twang, and a dash of Jewish grandma. And nothing rips an audience out of Renaissance England quicker than the sucker punch of a Southern drawl.

One Flea Spare takes place inside one room of a London mansion, where the patrician Mr. and Mrs. Snelgrave (J. Spyder Isaacson and Kathy Stanley), along with erstwhile sailor Bunce (James DuRuz) and sassy pre-teen Morse (Erin Culbertson), await liberation from their government-ordered quarantine. Their only outside contact is with Kabe (Jonathan Reis), the guard who keeps them locked up while supplying food, death tolls, catcalls, and inappropriate touching.

Naomi Wallace's script has merit, as far as I can tell, but the production is a murky mess, its most basic intentions obscured by a fog of bizarre directorial choices. Every scene is a seemingly random grab bag of inaudible mumbling and inexplicable hamminess, as though the cast were reading through it for the first time (Morse delivers the line "my father fell on me in a fit of fever, and there I lay under him for two nights and a day" like she's ordering toast; Bunce announces "I'm a pirate!" in a gleeful Peter Pan yodel). Director Tanja Pineda strains awkwardly for the macabre in a script that, due to its very subject matter, should be dripping with the stuff, and somehow she manages to fail. I now feel less creeped out by the Black Death than I did before I spent two hours quarantined with its unwashed prey. Stay home and watch the History Channel. LINDY WEST

Four Elements

Wade Madsen & Dancers at Broadway Performance Hall

Through July 10.

Four Elements is hugely ambitious, but not in the minimalist mode the title suggests. While the cast is large (18 dancers, including choreographer Wade Madsen) and the piece is long, the choreography itself is impish and undisciplined. Like a clumsy toddler, it seems to stumble into interesting territory by accident rather than design. Madsen's style is not, as you might imagine, particularly well suited to rigorous explorations of antique science. Whenever the tone of Four Elements bows to the solemnity of its theme, it looks ridiculous.

The first two sections of this evening-length dance, "Air" and "Earth," suffer most from this clash between subject matter and sensibility. "Air," set to recorded music by various serious-minded composers, is especially goofball. It's supposed to be a fairy tale, but it lacks any sense of drama. The flock of dancers in blue-violet tunics are like oxygen molecules as imagined by a Disney animator—whimsical and flat. A choreographic motif that recurs throughout the show, in which groups of dancers peel off singly or in pairs like a Busby Berkeley joke (or a high-culture version of the stadium wave), makes its first annoying appearance.

After intermission, things improve slightly. I liked "Water," with its counterintuitive approach to liquid. Dancers move jaggedly through space—as if they're embodying water that breaks over rocks and rushes into crannies. "Fire," with its raucous costumes by Macks Leger and Drew Smith, is the blatant crowd-pleaser. The dancers are much more enthusiastic in this piece, but it's often weird and indulgent (did we really need a boy on rollerblades?) and its casual vaudeville appropriation of ethnic spice occasionally edges near minstrelsy. ANNIE WAGNER