Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Yen Lunges At You

The MCC Theater production of Yen will either grab you hard or annoy you even harder. Yen is  is a gritty story, which rips at yoru heart and assaults your ears and eyes. If you enjoy that, it is a terrific show – I loved it. If difficult working class British accents punctuated by set changes filled with electronic music and flashing images sounds terrible, then you should avoid it.

Justice Smith, Ari Graynor and Lucas Hedges in Yen
Lucas Hedges and Justice Smith play  half-brothers Hench and Bobby, left to fend for their own in public housing by a mother who is pursuing a new husband. At 16, Hench is the nominal adult of the duo. His brother Bobby is 14 and registers on the lighter side on the ADHD / Autism scale. The boys consume on-line porn, violent video games and subsist on stolen food in between visits from their grandmother, which hasn’t happened in weeks. They inhabit their mother’s council flat with Taliban - a loud and angry dog, cooped up in the boy’s bedroom.

Ari Graynor, as the mother, shows up haphazardly to sleep off the occasional bender, borrow money, or steal things to sell. Manipulative and jealous of Hench’s relationship with his brother, she plays the boys off each other in an emotional game where there are no winners.

A love interest arrives in the form of Jennifer (Stefania LaVie Owen), a girl from the estate housing across the street. Jennifer's father died and her mother collapsed under the pressure. Unable to survive at home, they moved to Feltham. They now survive, unhappily, in her uncle’s apartment. Jennifer shows up on the boy's doorstep one day to rescue Taliban, but ends up trying to rescue the boys and herself. She becomes a sort of Wendy, casting the brothers in the role of the petty criminal lost boys.
Stefania LaVie Owen and Lucas Hedges

The acting in Yen is fantastic. Lucas Hedge does a slow burn and walking desolation that is moving and real. He pops to life in rapid bursts to save his brother, but those bursts quickly burn out, leaving him even more deflated. Jennifer awakens something new that Hench can’t begin to express. His life has been so devoid of love and denuded of affection that he doesn’t have the physical vocabulary for it. Stefania LaVie Osen is properly enigmatic and as wistful as a damaged girl can be. Jennifer is hope personified for the boys - so pure it cannot last. Ari Graynor is a terror as a mother, until you see the terrified child-like woman underneath. Finally there is the portrayal of Bobby by Justice Smith: he is wound up like a puppy on cocaine. I found it scarily real and heartbreaking – but fair warning, others might see overacting.

Yen is played out in a sad sitting room of a council flat in Feltham, and with top notch scenic design by Mark Wendland. The downfall of a British play can be the accents. I lived for a bit not far from Feltham, and the accents were very well done, even down to Stefania’s Welsh bite - Stephen Gabis was an excellent dialect coach. Director Trip Cullman doesn’t hurry the show, but viewers expecting a steady stream of action will be disappointed. Those viewers that are willing to see the human dramatic tension underneath will be richly rewarded by Yen.

Yen | Playwright: Anna Jordon | Director: Trip Cullman | Cast: Ari Garynor, Lucas Hedges, Stefania LaVie Owen, Justice Smith

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