As the lights come up on stage, the audience sees two young boys on a bed, bathed in the blue glow of a television screen. As the volume comes up, we hear the sounds of porn, and slowly it becomes clear what the boys are watching. One of them pulls a bottle of milk out from under the bed, and takes a swig as he continues to watch. All is silent except the sounds from the screen.
As an audience member, you may feel a range of emotions in these opening moments. Perhaps a little shock. Perhaps a little disgust as the somewhat violent sounds from the television became clearer. Perhaps even some unexpected amusement at the contradiction of watching this young man take a swig of milk as he watches what we can only imagine is showing on screen. Regardless of what you might feel, know that you are getting a good taste of what is to come, because what follows in Anna Jordan’s play is anything but easy to watch unfold.
Raven Theatre presents Chicago Premiere of Yen
Written by Anna Jordan and directed by Elly Green, Yen opens on two teenage brothers who live alone in a flat – 16-year-old Hench (Reed Lancaster) and 13-year-old Bobbie (Jesse Aaronson). The flat is far from clean, and all that it holds is a futon bed that the boys share in the living room, a flat screen television connected to a play station, and a closed door that blocks us from their mother’s untrained dog in the adjoining room. The boys have little else other than waiting for the occasional visits from their absent mother, Maggie (Tiffany Bedwell). However, when Jennifer (Netta Walker), an unexpected neighbor comes barging into the apartment, everything starts to change.
Jordan’s drama certainly has hints of dark comedy, but overall is roller coaster ride of a journey that may have a 15-minute-intermission, but once it sets off at the beginning, barely stops until the crashing end. Bobbie and Hench are left to take care of themselves, and Jordan offers an unapologetic warning of what can happen to the next generation if we are not careful.
In essence, Yen is a family drama, and Green, along with her powerhouse ensemble, skillfully crafts a piece that brings to frightening life all of the pain within this dynamic.
At the beginning of the play, the audience hears hints of the mother’s absence as Hench and Bobbie discuss the state of the flat, but little can prepare us for the first scene we see with all three family members in one place. Hench is old enough to understand the hurt that she has caused, and while he takes care of Maggie when she enters drunk the night prior, Lancaster brilliantly plays that heartbreaking balance of concern with trauma and pain. Bobbie on the other hand is still young, and Aaronson quite clearly showcases the character’s hunger for a mother’s love despite her constant failures to provide.
When Maggie finally wakes up in the morning, Green creates a striking image of Bobbie snuggling up to his mother while Hench remains at a distance playing his video game. The scene is so full of pregnant pauses as Maggie struggles to connect to her eldest, and instead settles for a light mocking because humor is easier than acknowledging the reality of this family unit. Bedwell and Lancaster have a dynamic that is painfully honest, and at times uncomfortable to watch.
Hints of Hope
Amidst this dark drama are small moments of light and hope, particularly in the beginnings of the relationship between Jennifer and Hench. The two are just sixteen, and while both have experienced pain in their lives, they still have that sweet awkwardness that many teenagers share when dealing with their feelings.
The first time the two share a hug, Hench freezes up, and admits that he is unsure of how to interact with her. Jennifer takes this graciously, and while shy, calmly shows him how to hug her and be close. The moment is sweet, and offers a much-needed reprieve from the intensity of the play that surrounds the scene. Walker and Lancaster share an adorable chemistry in this scene that elicited sighs from the opening night audience.
A captivating ensemble with skillful staging and a frightening script make Yen an event to experience. This writer is certainly still unpacking everything that she witnessed.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Reed Lancaster as Hench
Jesse Aaronson as Bobbie
Tiffany Bedwell as Maggie
Netta Walker as Jennifer
Director Elly Green
Stage Manager Alex Meyer
Set Designer Joe Schermoly
Costume Designer Alexis Chaney
Lighting Designer Claire Chrzan
Sound Designer Aaron Stephenson
Props Designer Leah Hummel
Dialect Coach Eva Breneman
Fight Choreographer Sam Hubbard
Assistant Director A.J. Roy
Assistant Stage Manager Alyssa Maldonado
Dramaturg Giulianna Marchese
Casting Director Lynn Baber
Technical Director Johnnie Schleyer
Running through May 5, 2019
Thursdays at 8:00pm
Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 8:00pm
Sundays at 3:30pm
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with intermission.
6157 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60660
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.