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BWW Review: Anna Jordan's YEN, An Unsettling, Hard-Edged Drama

As soon as you enter the Lortel for director Trip Cullman's tight and tense production of Anna Jordan's unsettling, hard-edged drama, Yen, the intention to catch audience members a little off-balance is evident.

Stefania LaVie Owen and Lucas Hedges
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

Playing upstage on a continuous loop before the play begins is projection designer Lucy Mackinnon's sped-up video that puts you in the driver's seat racing through London traffic. Sound Designer Fitz Patton revs up the tension.

Perhaps this is the way the world is seen through the eyes of Hench and Bobbie, the emotionally stilted half-brothers living in designer Mark Wendland's dreary interior of the Feltham housing project home where they apparently spend their days watching porn and playing video games.

At 16, Hench (Lucas Hedges) is the one in charge, as 14-year-old Bobbie (Justice Smith) tends to bounce around the room like a toddler, letting off enthused shouts of emotion. Both actors are excellent, as Hedges gradually reveals the layers of fear and innocence under Hench's tough exterior and Smith hits the right degree of realism in Bobbie's hyperactivity.

Their addicted mother, Maggie (Ari Graynor) lives with her boyfriend and only occasionally checks in with her sons to acquire money or weed. There's little chance for that, though, as the boys just get by with whatever they can steal, and are so broke that they share their only shirt until they can pay the cleaners for the big load of laundry they're holding.

Unseen by the audience is their dog, named Taliban because he's vicious and brown. A friendly and brave 16-year-old Welsh neighbor named Jenny (a thoughtful performance by Stefania LaVie Owen) has been observing the starving canine through the window and threatens to call the police to report animal cruelty until she sizes up the situation and sees that Hench and Bobbie are also in need of care.

Lucas Hedges, Ari Graynor and Justice Smith
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

Under her guidance, Hench begins exposing his vulnerability, and the two of them hesitantly explore intimacy. While Bobbie remains oblivious to mature emotions, Maggie sees the sensitive new girl in Hench's life as a threat to her control.

As explained by Jenny, the title doesn't refer to Japanese currency, but to a deep longing for something. Up until her arrival, Hench never knew of sincere emotional connections, and his reaction to the possibility of having one mixes longing, confusion and the placement of harsh defensive barriers.

Likewise, the major strength of Jordan's drama is that it offers audiences a glimpse of how Hench's world can change for the better, and leaves them yenning for it to happen.

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From This Author - Michael Dale