Tuesday, June 17, 2014

When I Was Young and Unafraid @ The Manhattan Theatre Club

On occasion, we as theatre goers, are given a gift, a brief interlude where we may experience something we'd never get to otherwise, through the expert storytelling of talent actors. Such is the case in When We Were Young and Unafraid. As bittersweet as its title suggests, this play takes you into the life of Agnes, a retired nurse who runs a Bed and Breakfast that also houses abused women before women's shelters existed in the US. 

Cherry Jones(Doubt) leads this talented cast as Agnes, retired nurse, mother, and business owner. Her daughter, Penny, played by Morgan Saylor(Disney’s McFarland) begins the show as a feminist spouting teenager and then devolves into a school skipping “normal” teenager more interested in boys than her schoolwork, with the bad advice of Mary Anne, played by Zoe Kazan(A Behanding in Spokane). Life for these women are directly effected by each other as well as the lone guest at the B&B, Paul, played by Patch Darragh(Our Town), and foul mouthed feminist revolutionary, Hannah, played by Cherise Boothe(Milk Like Sugar). 

Jones shines. Her compassion and heartbreak are palpable. You cannot help but admire her character. Despite being fired for her convictions, Agnes continued to create a safe place for abused women. When Mary Ann’s problems become personal though, she is forced to examine her feelings behind the women she protects. Jones’ unyielding serenity fills every moment in the play. Kazan holds her own as the emotionally and physically battered young wife of an abusive husband. Equally alluring and pathetic, Kazan makes you recoil from the stage even as you recognize yourself in the character. Boothe’s foul mouth, no nonsense attitude is a little hard to handle until she becomes surprisingly vulnerable. She is dedicated to her beliefs which could not be more apparent. The quips traded between her and Jones provide much needed laughter, reminding the audience that even in the hardest of times, there is still room for humor. Darragh’s character is both achingly average and revolting. A man so threatened by strong females, he cowers easily, while using subtle bullying to manipulate the situation. While not an abusive male, he is an unfortunate caricature of the “nice guy;” when, in reality he uses belittling to get what he wants. While her over enunciated consonants, inappropriate emphasis pauses, and slight over acting betray her naiveté when compared to the rest of her seasoned cast, Saylor has moments of vulnerability that show the potential of this young woman. If she would only slow down her sentences so that they might be understood, I would have enjoyed her performance more. As it is, Saylor has the capacity to be a great actress. 

Directed by Tony Award Winning director, Pam MacKinnon(Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf), When We Were Young and Unafraid is a must see. The show is running through August 10th, so be sure to get your tickets here! 

Review By: Aziza Seven
Photos By: Joan Marcus

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