When We Were Young and Unafraid
When We Were Young and Unafraid is set in pre-Roe v. Wade 1972, but the clothing isn’t the only thing that’s dated about Sarah Treem’s new drama. The production, playing through Aug. 10, at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Off Broadway Stage I, is a kind of distaff throwback to the kitchen-sink realism of an earlier era. This time, though, it’s angry young women who rage against the indignities of a patriarchal society — or try to find their way, quietly, within its strictures.
Cherry Jones leads a fine cast as a bottled-up ex-nurse (one guess as to why she lost her job) who runs a B&B on a remote island outside Seattle. She’s rearing a 16-year-old daughter (Homeland‘s Morgan Saylor, in an impressive stage debut), a nose-to-the-grindstone bookworm who secretly lusts after the football captain. She’s also made a habit of sheltering young women like Mary Anne (Zoe Kazan), who arrives with a shiner from her abusive soon-to-be-ex-husband (unless, of course, she decides to slink back to him). Into this refuge storms a militant lesbian (Cherise Booth), a college-educated African American who’s searching for a nearby commune dubbed Womynland.
Treem writes well, and she has a fine sense of developing individual scenes. The trouble is that she’s created mostly types instead of characters, mouthpieces for particular points of view rather than organic, flesh-and-blood people. At some point, each of her characters makes a rash act that doesn’t quite square with how we know them — but that awkwardly serves to advance her jerry-rigged plot. The least developed of the lot is poor Paul (Patch Darragh), a longtime guest at the B&B who’s left to embody just about every man in creation: sexual aggressor, well-mannered suitor, and everything in between. Score one for womynkind. B-