Yen shows two neglected teenagers struggling to grow up | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Yen shows two neglected teenagers struggling to grow up

It starts as grotesque comedy but ends in tragedy.

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What happens when people are truly left to their own devices? The first minutes of Anna Jordan's 2015 play about two brothers raising themselves on a diet of porn, video games, and junk food in a garbage-laden London council estate flat are abrasive and over the top. It takes some time to suspend one's disbelief enough to buy that two young men are portraying a 16- and 13-year-old. But as more and more details of their lives emerge, it becomes a devastating portrait of the effects of neglect, building to a violent but inevitable climax. It starts as grotesque comedy but ends in tragedy.

A dog named Taliban—never seen, but often heard growling and barking from the filthy bedroom the boys have ceded to it—is a four-legged embodiment of their existence: abandoned, underfed, but desperately longing for love. When a neighbor girl enters their world—initially drawn by the dog's cries—the boys are forced to try to grow up, and the results are traumatic for everyone involved.

The cast's four talented actors not only pull off convincing British accents but also manage to make their sometimes repugnant characters lovable. Their ugliness is real and can't be helped. The evocative set and lighting, by Joe Schermoly and Claire Chrzan respectively, creates a recurring nightmare of a little world. Its inhabitants snipe at each other in feral attempts to connect. They can't help the way they are. They're still human, but just barely. Elly Green directed.   v

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