Monday, March 09, 2020

Impressive “WHEN WE WERE YOUNG AND UNAFRAID” at Seat of Pants Productions

It is appropriate that on March 8, National Women’s Day, which contends to end exploitation and increase equality for females, I saw Seat of the Pants production of Sarah Treem’s “WHEN WE WERE YOUNG AND UNAFRAID.” 

Treem writes plays that have a high percentage of female roles.  She is noted for coming up with an exciting premise for examining characters of different backgrounds and ideas of what it means to be a woman at this pivotal historical moment in American history.  She conceives plots in which womens’ perspectives are challenged. She is not afraid to use explicit detail, upsetting sexual actions, and strong dialogue to flesh out women.

As one theater reviewer stated of “WHEN WE WERE YOUNG AND UNAFRAID,” “it is a stark reminder of how rare it is to see such urgent subject matter tackled in mainstream theater.”

It’s 1972, Agnes (Derdriu Ring), a woman with a teenage daughter is running a B&B on Whidbey Island, near Seattle, off the coast of Washington state.  The facility is also a safe space for abused women who find their way to Agnes through a means of silent leads since being off the radar is a requirement for protection from the lady’s abusers.

The latest woman needing advice and protection is Mary Anne (Kelly Strand), a pretty impulsive young lady who has been beaten-up by John, her husband.  

The only guest at the B&B is Paul (Andy Knode), a mild-mannered San Franciscan music teacher, who has come to the island, to mull over his impending divorce.  He becomes infatuated with Mary Anne, and when she has to leave the safe sanctuary because she has called her husband John, thus breaking the code of secrecy that is needed to protect other women, offers to take Mary Anne with him.

Penny (Morgan Brown), Agnes’s “daughter” is an awkward brainiac who has a crush on Tommy, a football player at the island’s high school.  Prom is coming up and though she contends that she isn’t interested in attending, she silently wishes that Tommy would ask her to the dance.  With Mary Anne’s advice, she not only achieves her goal of getting a date, but runs away with the boy for a long weekend.  

Below the surface of Agnes and Penny’s relationship is a secret of the connection between the two women.

Into this complex story of women and their ideas, wants, needs, and society’s expectations for them, comes Mary Anne, a macho, avowed lesbian, in search of her friends who have founded a commune for women where, with a strict rule restricting males from the community, desire to set up a woman-centric society.

Treem nicely develops an intriguing dynamic as each woman’s perspective is presented and challenged.  

Questions arise:  Will Mary Anne succumb to her weakness for danger and slink back to her husband for further mistreatment?  Will she accept the overtures of mild-mannered Paul? If she goes off with Paul, will he be a better option? Will a relationship develop between Mary Anne and Agnes?  Will Penny forget her plans to go to Yale and let her first foray into love set her life pattern instead?  

The Seat of The Pants production is wisely directed by Craig Joseph.  He not only understands the script and how to hone his actors’ performances, but nicely blocks the movements to take advantage of Aurora Community Theatre’s quirky thrust stage which finds the audience not only surrounding the acting area on three sides, but looking down onto the performance area.  

The cast, headed by two of the area’s best and most awarded actresses, Derdriu Ring and Amy Fritsche, both Cleveland Critic Circle and best actress award winners, is outstanding.  The rest of cast rises to their level, with each fleshing out a real person.  They don’t act. They are!

In lesser hands than the astute direction and fine performances, there is a danger that the “made for television” writing style and plot development could evolve into a less than satisfying experience.  

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “WHEN WE WERE YOUNG AND AFRAID” gets a superb production, with high quality direction and acting, thus making it a perfect vehicle to “celebrate” the issues of womanhood in this era of angst.  It is a production well worth experiencing!