BWW Review: YEN at ACT Grabs You and Doesn't Let Go

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BWW Review: YEN at ACT Grabs You and Doesn't Let Go
Daniel J. Willis, Llywelyn "Willy" Picton,
and Amber Tanaka in Yen at ACT.
Photo credit: Amelia Peacock

Dear Readers, a few years back I was fortunate enough to see a production made possible by ACT and the Kenan Fellowship in Directing, "Guards at the Taj". A show that still sticks with me to this day. And I say "fortunate enough" as it was only on stage at ACT for a few performances. Now ACT has brought us the latest recipient of the Kenan Fellowship, Rey Zane, and her production of Anna Jordan's "Yen" and I can tell that this brutal and gripping play will also be one to stick with me thanks to some stunning direction and performances.

From the moment the lights come up and half brothers Hench and Bobby (Llywelyn "Willy" Picton and Daniel J. Willis) utter their first words you can tell you're in for a rough night with their immature and bitter language and ideals. But then life hasn't been easy for them, especially lately as their Mother, Maggie (Alyssa Keene), has all but abandoned them to live with her new boyfriend. And now with their Grandmother gone as well, these London teens must fend for themselves which results in them sitting around the filthy flat all day playing video games and watching porn. Enter the girl from next door, Jennifer (Amber Tanaka), who's concerned for the well being of the boys' neglected dog Taliban (voiced brilliantly by Tim Gouran). But while caring for Taliban she develops a friendship with the boys that will change all three of their lives forever.

This is not a happy little comedy and Anna Jordan, as well as director Rey Zane, do not shy away from the vicious honesty of the situations. Zane paints a very stark picture of their world and keeps the pace clipping along right up to its harsh endings.

BWW Review: YEN at ACT Grabs You and Doesn't Let Go
Alyssa Keene, Llywelyn "Willy" Picton,
and Daniel J. Willis in Yen at ACT.
Photo credit: Amelia Peacock

But much of that credit also has to go to the incredible cast. Keene manages to show off how much she cares for the boys even underneath her poor choices and addictions which rule her life. Willis and Picton show off an undeniable bond as two brothers who may hurl harsh words at each other but would also lay down their lives for the other. Willis gives a wonderful performance showing off the borderline immaturity of his character as he's just too young to have the filter older people have and doesn't really have anyone to help with that. And Picton gives a stunning performance ranging from brotherly love to one of the sweetest love scenes with Tanaka I think I've ever seen on stage to his heartbreaking breakdown in the final act. And Tanaka brings in a beautiful sweetness to the show, making her eventual end so much more tragic.

This is certainly not a feel-good show, but it is certainly one you should try to catch. Excellence in direction and performance don't happen every day and you want to catch them when they do. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give "Yen" at ACT a "this one's gonna stay with me" YAY+. If you're a fan of superb performances and post show discussions on the ride home, then you don't want to miss this one.

"Yen" performs at ACT through September 29th. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at

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From This Author Jay Irwin