I was inspired to write about an ensemble of actors, Cherry Jones, Morgan Saylor, Zoe Kazan, Patch Darragh and Cherise Boothe because I watched them bring a play to life about a subject that matters – Violence Against Women. Tonight I saw When We Were Young And Unafraid, written by Sarah Treem and directed by Pam MacKinnon at the Manhattan Theatre Club, New York City Center Stage I. The play takes place at an underground women’s shelter, disguised as a Bed & Breakfast, run by Agnes (Cherry Jones) as she raises her teenage daughter Penny (Morgan Saylor).
I was mainly astounded to notice that when actors do the work to find the universals in their characters I am able to see a part of myself in all of them regardless of the their personality or phase of life.
Penny is a teenage girl learning how to balance her desire for education and her desire for love… something I have definitely been through! It was a pleasure to witness Saylor confidently open up the play by displaying intelligence and humor in her discussions about school and boys with her not-so-conventional mother. The humor found in the mother-daughter banter released me from any suspicion that their Bed & Breakfast was also a refuge for women seeking shelter from violence.
Agnes is a strong willed ex-nurse who shelters battered women and hides a broken heart. Empathy is easily felt for a woman who is so seemingly put together and yet is in such need of care and attention after years of putting everyone else’s needs first. As an actor myself, it was a great learning experience for me to witness Emmy and two-time Tony award winner Cherry Jones handle very emotionally charged material with strength, love and guarded vulnerability while expertly maintaining a grounded voice and presence.
Mary Anne is a young women fleeing a violent marriage and struggling to find strength even though the world finds her to seem very weak. In Kazan’s portrayal of a very vulnerable Mary Anne it was a relief to find humor and a strong will to grow. In finding the lightness of her character, Kazan still played the severe truth of her painful parting from a childhood sweat heart turned abusive while suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Mary Anne represents the reason why I sense this play was written – an insight into the beauty of the human will to survive despite the dual nature of humanity towards both destruction and development. As a female Mary Anne allowed me to reflect on the importance of using my voice and to surround myself with healthy and supportive friends, family and community.
Speaking of community, the other characters in the play deserve a mention. Hannah (Cherise Boothe) is a college student sorting through a feminist revolution with humor and a strong voice while performing odd jobs around the Bed & Breakfast. Boothe’s use of the space/stage was very impressive and made her seem to represent the West Coast ocean breeze sweeping in through doors and windows to provide news and much needed love. In appreciation of regularity and of men… there was Paul (Patch Darragh) a sappy, wondering song writer who discovers that he just wants to lead a simple life and to have someone to share it with. His character’s ordinariness provided comic relief from the extraordinariness and turmoil of the female relationships leading the play.
I would recommend that people see this play because it is not just entertaining, but it is also an important play. It reminded me that many women suffer from violence and that “everyone deserves a chance” to build herself up again.