“These feral creatures, who live on their own in a rancid apartment in a suburban London housing project, are portrayed with equal sensitivity and fierceness by Lucas Hedges and Justice Smith…’Yen’ is a thoughtful play, for sure, but too often you’re aware of the wheels churning behind it...You may feel that the characters are being pushed into climactic positions by authorial hands...Despite the resulting sensory overload, ‘Yen’ never quite packs the wallop it so obviously intends to.” Full Review
“Director Trip Cullman presents this story with clarity and sensitivity, aided by some truly remarkable acting...Smith gives one of the most electric performances of the season…It all seems calibrated to disturb and we can see the calculation coming, making ‘Yen’ something of a disappointment...Jordan proves herself to have a firm grip on both contemporary language and timeless human behavior…Unfortunately, she cannot resist the siren call of sensationalism." Full Review
"As soon as you enter the Lortel for Cullman's tight and tense production of Jordan's unsettling, hard-edged drama, the intention to catch audience members a little off-balance is evident...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...The major strength of Jordan's drama is that it offers audiences a glimpse of how Hench's world can change for the better." Full Review
“Writing with vigor and sympathy, Jordan evokes the boys’ volatile combination of poverty, misogyny and piss-poor communication skills, and Trip Cullman once again adeptly charts a modern teenage wasteland. Although ‘Yen’ peters off after its climax, the intense and soulful Hedges 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." Full Review
“The play doesn’t offer so much a slice of life as a barely digestible bite…The play’s descent into turgid, contrived melodrama at least rescues it from the tediousness that had preceded it...Director Trip Cullman tries to energize the slow-paced proceedings with jarring sound effects and video projections...But these embellishments mainly smack of theatrical desperation, since the playwright never makes clear what she’s actually trying to say. The younger performers are excellent.” Full Review
"Were 'Yen' content to explore this one situation, it might be a successful-enough lost-boy social drama…But it is much more ambitious and open-ended than that, reaching toward the bigger and bleaker greatness of poetic dramas like 'Of Mice and Men'…The play and production never make a false step onstage. The roles are immensely actable and, in MCC’s production, immensely acted." Full Review
“A powerfully acted and impressively staged production…The effects of abandonment and isolation mixed with a longing for human connection are brought to stark, vivid life under Trip Cullman’s unsparing direction…Hedges once again shows heartbreaking depth in his sense of stillness, shame and repressed feelings as the brother who aches for the human touch. The young actor evokes a world of hurt in his hopeless gaze and strangled speech.” Full Review
"Even when the script, fairly early on, begins to take less plausible turns, it's the work of the actors that keeps one's eyes riveted...Hedges and Smith are new to the stage; based on their work here, they have astonishing stage careers ahead...'Yen' remains an often staggeringly powerful piece...And it provides a golden opportunity to make the acquaintance of some superb young actors. Even when the script goes a little soft, they remain diamond hard." Full Review
"A searing, sordid portrait of alienated youth in a ripping production...Predictably a misunderstanding leads to tragedy, but the writing is so realistic and the acting and direction so sharp, this familiar story still has a walloping impact...Hedges and Owen feelingly convey Hench and Jenny’s tentative attractions and damaged psyches. Ari Graynor is brilliantly brittle as the out-of-control Maggie. The uniquely named Justice Smith gives a stand-out performance as the feral Bobbie." Full Review
“What leavens 'Yen’s' sensationalism is the playwright’s precise observations of the moment-to-moment interactions…What makes these moments work above all are the performances by the four cast members…’Yen’ takes a turn towards violence that, in retrospect, feels inevitable – less for sound psychological or sociological reasons than because that’s the standard ending for these kinds of dramas...Director Trip Cullman can take credit for a production that is always watchable." Full Review
"Enhanced by the emotionally riveting work of Smith and his three fellow actors, this production of 'Yen,' despite the play's flaws, is one of the most gripping of the Off-Broadway season...Jordan's drama ekes out its themes in bits and pieces, focusing on mood, atmosphere, and character, so that when something traumatic happens it stands out that much more sharply. The events in Act Two, though, dramatic as they may be, take the play in a slightly different, more plot-oriented direction." Full Review
“Hedges is arrestingly real. He's the only thing that is...Jordan does not succeed at eliciting much humanity from her other characters...Each part of the scenario is unbelievable on its face…Worse, Jordan telegraphs everything, and leaves nothing to the imagination. None of the huge plot twists, and there are several, come as a surprise…Cullman's staging is all broad strokes and shouting, creating a quartet of colorless caged zoo animals and doing the parched script no favors.” Full Review
“As Hench, Mr. Hedges is so believable as an adolescent on the edge of sanity…Trip Cullman has directed this piece with physical agility…Ms. Jordan’s play lacks in so many ways. First of all it is predictable. Second she never answers the questions the audience longs to know…Most importantly why make us watch something this horrible? There is a piece of my soul I will never get back and for what? This play taught me nothing except that these actors are all skilled and extremely gifted.” Full Review
“Hedges impresses in his stage debut…He nails a roller coaster of emotions as Hench, a haunted 16-year-old bed-wetter with a future as grim as the dreary flat he shares with his half-brother…Broken people falling through the cracks is familiar territory. But the play’s dark shadows and surprising flickers of tenderness get under your skin in director Cullman's staging. Which isn't to say there aren't issues. Characters and plotting could use more heft, while the dialogue is too much.” Full Review
"If you’ve seen 'Manchester By The Sea' you already know that Lucas Hedges has the seething sullen-teen thing down. This gifted young actor raises the stakes to James Dean-ian heights in his smashing stage debut…’Yen is a not entirely controlled drama, and it’s predictable in some aspects. But the writing, and this superb production, bristle with youthful talent — the kind that makes you remember names." Full Review
“Exhausting to take in, I wonder if Smith’s frantic energy, similar to that of a naughty jack russell, is just too much. Smith has definitely made a choice, and one consistently presented, but a calmer less annoying temperament might have caused us to engage more in this lost young man…It’s a tremendously challenging and difficult play that the young Anna Jordan has written. She shows great skill in storytelling and a wonderful ear for interaction.” Full Review
"'Yen' dives headlong into the miasma of dysfunctional families without abandon and lands in a matrix of enduring questions that Jordan decides not to answer...The second act, more violent and shocking, still leaves the audience wondering why Jordan wrote 'Yen.' Cullman’s staging depends heavily on loud and violent projections to add to the mood of the play. It would seem giving more attention to Jordan’s script and trusting its strength would have given the piece more purpose." Full Review
"It is an endless bombardment of sound and fury–showing us, telling us, who these boys are...but it’s too much...It is the arrival of Jenny that turns the play into something more than the yelling and gnashing of teeth. Here is where poetry begins and here is where we start to care, to listen–leaning forward, drinking in the words and emotions played so beautifully by this flawless cast...It is the quiet, painful moments of longing where the writer, actors and director all shine." Full Review
"There are many questions that the author leaves unanswered. Although the boys have not attended school in years and Bobbie has been diagnosed as ADHD and should be in the British equivalent of special education, no social worker seems to have visited to check up. Who is paying the rent or the electricity? Is the mother on welfare and are these items paid automatically? There is no explanation of how the boys are eating and how Taliban stays alive if they have not been feeding it for days." Full Review
“The plot has a few contrivances that make no sense…There is too little context for the characters. We never learn what demons bedevil Hench…Cullman commits one of the cardinal sins of directing: shining bright lights in the audience’s eyes...When it was all over, I had to ask myself what was the play’s point. Is it just a slice of life about the British lower classes? A screed about the evils of porn and video games? Judge for yourself if you are so inclined.” Full Review
"Hedges turns out to be far more than just a Hollywood lure in ‘Yen,’ a tough, moving, deeply unpredictable drama…And he is hardly the only young discovery. Right there with him is Justice Smith...Jordan writes tough — verbally and physically. And director Cullman stages the American premiere as controlled emotional chaos, each scene separated by music of punk desperation and splatters of war videos. The end is a bit inconclusive but, then again, so are these fierce and fragile lives." Full Review
"What begins as a hyperbolic, even pornographic vision of social breakdown thus evolves in a more melodramatic direction, with clear Dickensian overtones...A pulsating soundtrack and Lucy Mackinnon’s frenetic video projections heighten the sense that 'Yen' is less about the reality of poverty than its exploitative portrayals in popular culture. Anchoring that critique is Hedges who exudes quiet intensity and torment in a performance that defies clichés about troubled youth." Full Review
"The evening does have several moving scenes. Mostly, the drama feels contrived, which sets up a barrier to getting involved with the characters…The moment in which Hench tells Jennifer that he doesn’t know how to touch her is enormously affecting, the most powerful expression of the terrible cost of the boys’ abandonment..We’re left, despite an ill-fitting conciliatory ending, with the ultimate message that desperate lives can be influenced by acts of kindness but are hard to truly change." Full Review
"Hedges is excellent here as a boy who copes with life by being prickly and snappish, but who is essentially introspective and caring underneath…Smith is a gifted actor, who makes us believe his storms of devotion and resentment are coming from the gut…Graynor’s Maggie shows her bottomless neediness, without turning us against her.” Full Review
"MCC Theater is delivering a powerful production bristling with high energy and bravura performances...Playwright Anna Jordan is unflinching in her portrayal of a wretched British family drowning in a pit of despair. But Jordan and her ace director Trip Cullman somehow manage to inject enough humanity to make us care about these deplorables...Hard to love certainly, but given such a gutsy production, it’s equally hard to turn away." Full Review
See it if you need refuge from a rain storm for a couple of hours.
Don't see it if you enjoy an interesting afternoon/evening in the theater. It's just NOT worth the time you will have invested.
See it if you enjoy human stories about people who are probably unlike you, but who are in a very difficult situation. You can't help but feel bad.
Don't see it if you can't stand the classic dysfunctional family story - this is another version of that.
Also Reminded me of Ken Lonnergen's This is Our Youth.
See it if you want to see a challenging story told by a couple of really good actors. The performances are better than the play.
Don't see it if you are easily disturbed by graphic realism or if you're a stickler for accents.
See it if you can handle a starkly barren view of humanity. Brilliantly depicted yet so disturbing! Not a fun evening but very worthwhile. Jarring!
Don't see it if you don't want to be uncomfortable because the story and underlying themes WILL give you an emotional workout that's uncomfortable.
See it if you're into tough, edgy, British dramas with strong language meant to expose the violent, ugly underbelly of poor, uneducated society
Don't see it if you're bothered by violence, abrasiveness, and strong language all at the service of a supposed "edginess" that doesn't feel fresh
See it if you're looking for a dark & intense contemporary drama—a portrait of teens with absentee parents on welfare in poor socioeconomic situation
Don't see it if you can't stand vulgar language or do not follow urban British slang/colloquialism (this is not Queen's English), you want a light show
See it if Not for the faint hearted It is a very disturbing play .The characters are misfits struggling to survive.
Don't see it if you cant stand brutality and dysfunctional families.My husband stayed but I left at intermission.I felt as if I were being assaulted.
See it if Incredible performances, great writing, great staging...could not recommend this phenomenon more!
Don't see it if There is serious subject matter regarding child neglect, mental disorders, and trauma.
See it if you want to see a slice of life of a very poor family in Britain and the teen boys who are left to fend for themselves. Great cast.
Don't see it if you do not like character studies and need more plot driven dramas.
See it if you really like the cast, which includes Lucas Hedges; you want to see a dark drama.
Don't see it if you're not interested in seeing a young man playing an adolescent who behaves like a toddler.
See it if you're interested in the effect not having parents around has on youth, especially in regards to romantic/sexual development
Don't see it if you're triggered by sexual assault or the idea of watching two teenagers live essentially in squalor
See it if You enjoy great acting as if things are really happening in front of you, you like dark drama and family issues.
Don't see it if You want some light plays, or mental health issues and physical abuse disturbs you. The English accent is also hard to recognize sometimes.
See it if you are interested in contemporary English drama, exploring the recesses of society, and the effects of negligence and hostility on kids.
Don't see it if you enjoy a pleasant and un-challenging evening at the theatre.
See it if You like theatrical intensity and family dysfunction. Want to see a couple of fine young actors.
Don't see it if Are put-off by loud, irritating, vulgar sounds and language. You are looking for a light evening at the theatre.
See it if you like physically intense, emotionally upsetting contemporary plays and don't mind bloody theatricality.
Don't see it if This is a raw, intense, unhappy play. Consider skipping if you have triggers (child & animal abuse, sexual violence, language).
See it if like your shows loud and disturbing. All the performances are excellent, but the play is not. Acting salvages otherwise bad play.
Don't see it if care about intelligent dialogue
See it if you can appreciate a raw, difficult look at the lives of kids whose upbringing is non-existent and whose very existence is precarious.
Don't see it if you aren't prepared to examine the harsh realities of kids who start life w/no chance. Hedges, Smith, Graynor, & Owen give stunning turns.
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