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Theater review: Lucas Hedges goes dark and wild in Anna Jordan's Yen

Yen
Photograph: Joan Marcus

Teenage boys are trouble in even the best of conditions, and Anna Jordan’s Yen puts them very far from those. Abandoned by their addict mother (Ari Graynor) for weeks at a time, 16-year-old Hench (Lucas Hedges) and his younger brother, Bobby (Justice Smith), have gone feral: They spend all day in their squalid suburban London flat, shirtless and stinking, playing video games and watching porn. It’s a Broken Britain version of Lord of the Flies, only worse; at least those boys got fresh air and exercise. When their mistreated dog, named Taliban—“ ’cos he’s vicious and he’s brown”—attracts the concern of a kindly young Welsh neighbor, Jennifer (Stefania LaVie Owen), the taciturn Hench sees a ray of emotional light and tries his best not to blink.

Writing with vigor and sympathy, Jordan evokes the boys’ volatile combination of poverty, misogyny and piss-poor communication skills, and Trip Cullman—who directed the comparable Punk Rock for MCC in 2014—once again adeptly charts a modern teenage wasteland. Although Yen peters off after its climax, the intense and soulful Hedges (an Oscar nominee for Manchester by the Sea) and the astoundingly energetic Smith give a pair of extraordinary performances. It’s impossible to shift your eyes from them as they bounce off or hit their walls.

Lucille Lortel Theatre (Off Broadway). By Anna Jordan. Directed Trip Cullman. With Lucas Hedges, Justice Smith, Ari Graynor, Stefania LaVie Owen. Running time: 2hrs 10mins. One intermission. Through Feb 19. Click here for full ticket and venue information.

Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam  

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