Off Broadway Review: Oscar Nominee Lucas Hedges in ‘Yen’
The barking dog locked in the next room isn’t the only animal neglected in Anna Jordan’s bleak, brutal yet surprisingly tender play “Yen,” making its American premiere in a powerfully acted and impressively staged MCC Theater production that stars newly minted Academy Award nominee Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea”). Also left adrift are two Brit teenage half-brothers – 16-year-old Hench (Hedges, making an impressive stage bow) and 14-year-old Bobbie (Justice Smith of Netflix series “The Get Down,” in a dynamic turn) — who live by themselves in a filthy, near-empty apartment, playing video games, watching violent porn and sustainingthemselves on stolen candy and drink. To leave their apartment — Mark Wendland designed the desolate set — the boys have to take turns wearing the single jersey they own.
The effects of abandonment and isolation mixed with a longing for human connection is brought to stark, vivid life under Trip Cullman’s unsparing direction. Fitz Patton’s music and sound design and Lucy Mackinnon’s projections also contribute to the jagged-edge feel of the production.
The boys’ alcoholic and diabetic mother Maggie (Ari Graynor) has left these fatherless sons — one dad died in an overdose, the other was convicted of rape — to their own devices in order to live with her latest abusive lover. But Mum occasionally drops by, mainly to scrounge for money or be worshipped with puppy-like neediness by Bobbie, desperate for any gesture of interest or affection. Not so fawning is brooding, hardened Hench, who keeps his distance from his mother while clearly still in her thrall.
Things change for the better — and worse — when a young Welsh neighbor, 16-year-old Jenny, nicknamed “Yen,” (Stefania LaVie Owen), intrudes on their isolated existence, concerned at first for the welfare of their dog Taliban (“Because he’s violent…and he’s brown,” says Bobbie, explaining the name.)