Review: Pains of Youth (WORKhouse Theatre)

“Bourgeois existence or suicide.” I can’t find a better way of describing Pains of Youth, an adaptation by Martin Crimp based on the play Krankheit der Jugend (The Sickness of Youth) by Austrian playwright Theodor Tagger writing under the pseudonym Ferdinand Bruckner and directed by Richie Wilcox. “Warning: Contains scenes of sexual and emotional violence” also serves as a great description. This production is not for the faint of heart.

The story takes place in 1920s Austria, a country caught up in a swell of modernism, high culture, and social progression on the heels of the First World War. It was a time when work was plentiful, especially work for women. The medical profession was also at an all-time high as medical services were provided to the public for free. Even the world of prostitution was legal and sex workers were licensed and given health certificates.

At a boarding house in 1923, seven medical students on the eve of their graduation struggle with the need to transition into adulthood and into their acquired professions while being lured back by the trappings of a sexually free bourgeois lifestyle. As the students find spare moments to study diagnoses before their final exams, in between bouts of drinking and sexual exploration, they find their own sickness to be the sickness of youth and set out to find the cure.

What it ultimately amounts to is a two-hour production full of raw intensity, sexual aggression, violence, witty and well-delivered dialogue, genuinely painful emotion, and a healthy dose of angst concentrated into a small playhouse and delivered to a small audience. As you sit only steps away from the action on stage, the intimacy of performance draws you in and you are locked with these characters, feeling and breathing with them through it all.

A tip of the hat goes to director Richie Wilcox for his creative use of an incredibly small stage occupied by only two chairs and a few props allowing the dialogue and the phenomenal talents of his actors speak for themselves. I also love his use of sheer curtains, allowing the characters that aren’t on stage but being spoken about to lurk and linger in the background, unseen by those on stage, like ghosts, like a conscience. The systematic placement of bursting balloons, there to make the audience jump, adds to the intensity.

My guest with me for the evening was my new boyfriend Robert who was eagerly anticipating his first live production. What we witnessed blew us both away as we were transfixed by the aggression and power in the more visceral scenes depicting rape, abuse and emotional deconstruction.

We walked out of the theatre commenting on the performance of Mark Paci whose portrayal of Freder, the drunken antagonist, came close to stealing the show. Sarah Illiatovitch-Goldman as Lucy, the timid maid, Carrie Hage as Desiree (Dizzy), the spoiled countess, and Danielle Rossin-Hardy as Marie also gave standout performances.

It’s a production that stays with you for a while; something you’re bound to talk about for weeks. Simply put, it’s not something you’ll easily forget. For all its emotional rawness and guttural passion, Pains of Youth is well worth the watch.


– Pains of Youth is presented by WORKhouse Theatre directed by Richie Wilcox and stars Carrie Hage, Mark Paci, Danielle Bossin-Hardy, John-Riley O’Handley, Jonah Hundert, Sarah Illiatovitch-Goldman, and Lauren Commeford.
– The production is showing at Unit 102 Theatre (46 Noble Street, Unit 102).
– Performances are at 7 pm from September 7-17 (excluding Monday September 12) with 2 pm matinee shows on September 10-11.
– Tickets are $20, general admission, and can be purchased online through WORKhouse Theatre.

Photo of Danielle Bossin-Hardy, Carrie Hage, Mark Paci, and Sarah Illiatovich-Goldman by Fahad Khan.