From Sarah Treem, the woman who brought you the incredibly nuanced and stimulating play “The How and The Why” comes another incredibly stimulating and nuanced play, “When We Were Young and Unafraid.” Directed by Marie Byrd Sproul, this play takes women’s rights and looks at it from every corner, leaving no stone unturned. The year is 1972, Angela Davis has been released from jail, and the Women’s Liberation movement is in full swing. Far away from that, seemingly on another planet, is Whidbey Island, right around Seattle Washington. And on that island, lies a bed and breakfast that serves as a safe house for women who have been abused by their husbands.
I can’t think of a play more relevant…
The Keegan Theatre co-founder Sheri Herren plays the strong but existentially exhausted owner of this establishment, Agnes. Sheri’s Agnes is so superbly human, you often forget that you’re in a play and not sitting across the table from a woman in her home. Kaylynn Creighton is a joy to watch as Penny, Agnes’ daughter. A recent graduate of the National Conservatory of the Dramatic Arts, Creighton especially excels in a scene where she distracts Mary Anne by telling her the story of the goddess under the bay.
At the heart of the play is Mary Anne, the unraveling housewife, played by Jenna Berk. Before the beginning of the play, she has been brutally beaten by her husband. She comes to Agnes for help but struggles with her conflicting feelings towards her husband. Berk plays the character with incredible depth and soul. You can almost hear the audience’s hearts ache as she recounts the story of what happened to her.
Despite its heavy subject matter, the show is hilarious. Nora Achrati is fabulous as the raging lesbian Hannah, who insists Ti – Grace Atkinson was right when she said: “Feminism is the theory and Lesbianism is the practice.” The sweet music teacher and bed and breakfast tenant Paul, played by WSC: Avant Bard regular Theo Hadjimichael, has a comically oblivious nature.
One of the best things about coming to see a Keegan Theatre performance is seeing the completely new way that the space is transformed. The cozy set designed by Matthew Keenan, is reminiscent of the endless evergreens of the Washington/Canada border. Liz Gossens’ costumes play around with colors and patterns that are traditionally associated with the female sex. There are plenty of florals, denoting the flower-powered Beat Generation. Even Paul finds himself in soft robin’s egg blue. Keegan veteran Kate McCreary, who designed Keegan’s “Mack, Beth,” lends her considerable lighting talents to this production. Signature Theatre’s Jordana Abrenica designs the sounds of the gorgeous Whidbey Island wildlife.
Looking on this side of the expanse of 50 plus years, the 1960s and 1970 look as black and white as the pictures. But back then, as this play makes abundantly clear, it was extremely difficult to see the forest for the trees. Paul laments the children who think “once they break something it’s all going to magically come back together.” I can’t think of a play more relevant in this time of mistrials and Access Hollywood tapes.
Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes with one intermission.
“When We Were Young and Unafraid” plays through July 8th, 2017 at The Keegan Theatre. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit online.