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‘Yen’ review: Lucas Hedges among gifted young cast

Ari Graynor and Lucas Hedges as mother and

Ari Graynor and Lucas Hedges as mother and son in "Yen" at Lortel Theatre. Credit: Joan Marcus

WHAT “Yen”

WHERE Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St.

INFO $30-$69; 212-352-3101; mcctheater.org

BOTTOM LINE Gifted young talent in gritty Brit drama.

We have heard a lot lately about Lucas Hedges, the 20-year-old Oscar nominee who plays the fatherless teen in “Manchester by the Sea.” But we also need to know, right now, about his smoldering, subtly internalized stage debut at MCC Theater’s tiny West Village theater.

Hedges turns out to be far more than just a Hollywood lure in “Yen,” a tough, moving, deeply unpredictable drama by British playwright Anna Jordan. And he is hardly the only young discovery. Right there with him is Justice Smith, equally skinny and preternaturally gifted, bouncing off the peeling walls with a tireless, feral energy that would make the young Mick Jagger seem like a couch spud.

Hedges is Hench, 16, half-brother to Smith’s Bobbie, 14, and both have been virtually abandoned in their desolate flat in a British housing project by their mother (Ari Graynor), a substance-abusing diabetic who left them — and their poor unseen but heard dog Taliban — for yet another man. Mom returns every so often to set up unrealistic expectations in love-and-food starved Bobbie and to grab the little money they have. Mostly, the brothers — one white and practically skin-headed, one half-black with a mound of untamed hair — stream porn and play war video games.

Enter the waif next door, Jennifer — called Yen by her beloved dead father — who, for a while, becomes Wendy to their Lost Boys. Embodied with unflappable big-hearted poise by Stefania LaVie Owen (“The Carrie Diaries”), the girl, also 16, hates the relatives who grudgingly took her in and dreams of returning to Wales, preferably with her new friends.

Jordan writes tough — verbally and physically. And director Trip Cullman stages the American premiere as controlled emotional chaos, each scene separated by music of punk desperation and static splatters of war videos. The end is a bit inconclusive but, then again, so are these fierce and fragile lives.

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