Review Roundup: MTC's WHEN WE WERE YOUNG AND UNAFRAID
Manhattan Theatre Club's world premiere of When We Were Young and Unafraid, the new play by Sarah Treem ("House of Cards," "In Treatment"), directed by Tony Award winner Pam MacKinnon (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Clybourne Park), opens tonight, June 17 at MTC at New York City Center - Stage I (131 West 55th Street).
WHEN WE WERE YOUNG AND UNAFRAID features two-time Tony winner Cherry Jones, Obie Award Winner Cherise Boothe (MTC's Ruined, Milk Like Sugar), Patch Darragh (Appropriate, Kin), Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks, Behanding in Spokane), and Morgan Saylor ("Homeland," Jamie Marks Is Dead).
Jones returns to MTC for Treem's powerful new play that takes us inside an underground women's shelter in the early 1970s... before Roe v. Wade, before the Violence Against Women Act, before women had places to turn in times of distress.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: The female characters in "When We Were Young and Unafraid," Sarah Treem's debate-driven new play...appear to have little difficulty articulating their viewpoints or making sure that we know exactly where to place them on a shifting scale of political consciousness. Such meticulously laid-out clarity may be a boon to those who like the assistance of road signs in finding their way to a theme. But it subverts the potential narrative power of this earnest, thoughtful drama...Ms. MacKinnon...does her best to disguise the presence of invisible podiums. And every now and then, the production finds a more organic emotional intensity. Such moments, for the most part, come courtesy of Ms. Kazan, who can always be counted on to find a character's inner masochist, and Ms. Jones...Jones merely simmers stoically, suggesting volcanic depths beneath a calm and sturdy surface.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Cherry Jones heads up a first-rate cast in "When We Were Young and Unafraid," a provocative if loosely constructed play by Sarah Treem that looks back with pride (and a hint of horror) to gender politics in 1972. The mismatched residents of a women's shelter on an island off the coast of Washington seem poised for ideological battle. But something -- perhaps the scribe's day job as a writer-producer of "House of Cards" and other shows -- derails the drama, which loses focus and momentum, fragmenting into mini-dramas that resemble episodes in a series that might not be renewed.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: When We Were Young and Unafraid is set in 1972, the year leading up to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights, as second-wave feminism was cresting. But when asked if she feels hopeful that the times are changing, the character played by Cherry Jones responds, "They'll change back." If this new play by Sarah Treem...had a similarly perceptive grasp of its issues -- both then and now -- it would be trenchant theater. Instead it loses its way after a promising setup, drifting into television-style melodrama, despite fine work from the cast of Pam MacKinnon's polished production.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: The lives of a sheltered teen and an abused wife intersect at a pivotal moment for each in "When We Were Young and Unafraid," an affecting drama from thirty-something playwright Sarah Treem...Though her thought-provoking narrative gets stuck in the occasional rut, "When We Were Young and Unafraid" is a stark reminder of how rare it is to see such urgent subject matter tackled in mainstream theater.
Helen Shaw, Time Out NY: Sarah Treem's self-defeating drama When We Were Young and Unafraid begins with a promising setting: a '60s bed-and-breakfast doubling as a women's shelter, where Agnes (Jones) offers succor to domestic-violence escapees. In the play's competent first moment, Agnes and her 16-year-old daughter, Penny (Morgan Saylor), bicker sweetly. Our hopes rise: a work about women saving women! But Treem soon buries the duo under a series of hacky, over-machined, self-contradictory scenes, all veneered with appeals to sisterhood.
Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: 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-
Matt Windman, AM New York: Not even the Midas Touch of a Cherry Jones performance can save "When We Were Young and Unafraid," an overwrought feminist drama...In spite of a promising and intriguing start, the play, as directed by Pam MacKinnon, descends into a diffuse cavalcade of clichés, undeveloped characters and melodramatic revelations. Jones brings the same sense of bravery in spite of challenging circumstances that characterized her celebrated performances in "Doubt" and this past season's revival of "The Glass Menagerie."
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Photo Credit: Joan Marcus