When We Were Young and Unafraid – Shelter from the Storm

when we were young and unafraid155

When We Were Young and Unafraid is one of those plays that I see and say to myself afterwards, “With that cast, playwright, and director I was hoping for more.” The acting was very good and the first act was well-written, but in the second act the story went off the rails and I found the ending too tidily put together.

The play takes place in 1972, and playwright Sara Treem makes sure the audience has context. Yale has recently started admitting women, Roe v Wade was being argued in the Supreme Court and drugs and free love have made appearances in San Francisco. The always superb Cherry Jones leads the show playing Agnes, a woman who runs a bed-and-breakfast AND a shelter for battered women on an island off Washington State. She lives with her daughter Penny, a very smart 16-year old feminist who decides to ask the captain of the football team to prom. A knock at the door brings a flurry of activity – shades are drawn, doors locked and a rug is pulled back to reveal a hiding place. In comes Mary Anne, played by the nuanced Zoe Kazan. Only 25-years old, but married for six years, Mary Anne has fled her abusive husband.

The interactions between these three characters rang true to me. Mary Anne, worldly about men, takes the naïve Penny under her wing. Agnes tells Mary Anne what her future will hold if she goes back to the man she desperately loves, and desperately fears. It is the plays’ two other characters that I found problematic. While the acting is good, these characters are archetypes. There’s Hannah, the angry black lesbian and Paul, the lone B&B guest who represents “how the times they are a changing.” Paul is a young man who wants an old-fashioned life in a fast-changing world.

In the second act, while one interesting secret is revealed, the plot seems to be in a hurry to tie up loose ends. Things come together a little too neatlyand one of the storylines seems to come out of left field.  If you can see this play at a discount to see fine acting work I would recommend it. Otherwise I would wait to see what the talented group behind this production brings to the table next time. AFW

Manhattan Theatre Club at NY City Center, 131 W 55th

Runs through 8/10

Manhattan Theatre Club at NY City Center, 131 W 55th

Runs through 8/10

Discounts available at Theatermania.com. Code: THM2


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