Spine: ‘When We Were Young and Unafraid’ at The Keegan Theatre

Stepping back 45 years, America is in the midst of a social revolution, and feminist consciousness-raising sessions are underway.

Radical feminists, cultural feminists, and political feminists are all calling for social change, from the passing of laws to protect women to the wholesale transformation of American society.

Theo Hadjimichael & Jenna Berk. Photo by Cameron Whitman Photography.

Sarah Treem’s new play, When We Were Young and Unafraid, and now playing at the Keegan Theatre, takes us back to those turbulent days.

And what a difference four decades makes.

And the waves keep rolling in.

Treem’s play may be a little too polemic at times, but it definitely accomplishes its mission: it’s a dramatic thought-producer that will lead to late night discussions, or even arguments, over post-show wine-spritzers and morning cups of Joe.

Narrowly defined, When We Were Young and Unafraid deals with violence against women. More broadly, it dramatically engages the theme of female empowerment.

At the center of When We Were Young is Agnes (Sheri S. Herren), a strong-willed, loner of a woman who runs a safe house for battered women on a remote island in Puget Sound. Her 16-year-old daughter, Penny (Kaylynn Creighton), is all hormones and high feminist expectations. When a battered, yet still feisty Mary Anne (Jenna Berk) arrives, bringing her expertise in masculine manipulation with her, Agnes’ Whidbey Island hideaway is turned upside down.

Jenna Berk and Kaylynn Creighton. Photo by Cameron Whitman Photography.

That turbulence is only intensified when Nora Achrati’s radical Hannah and Theo Hadjimichael’s weirdo Paul enter: then, the whole world is subject to change.

And, indeed, that’s exactly what idealistic dreams were swirling around in the movement days of the early 1970s, and what Ms. Treem wants us to consider from her historical look back of a play.

Violence against women is still very much with us, but the means for neutralizing that violence and its effect on women have improved.

And the empowerment of women has skyrocketed.

Treem’s play establishes a feminist incubator of sorts within its isolated retreat where the women struggle for self-definition mainly amongst themselves. By contrast, in today’s America, women’s identities are front and center across a broad spectrum of issues.

Sheri S. Herren and Nora Achrati. Photo by Cameron Whitman Photography.

Violence against women remains an issue but it is no longer relegated to safe houses (though they still exist) or to feminist consciousness-raising sessions. Now, public debate on the issue is commonplace with the voices calling for change growing stronger than ever.

Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the return of psychologically traumatized soldiers to civilian life, When We Were Young and Unafraid seems ironically appropriate to today, as America struggles with its newest longest war.

Today, Americans might not be conscious of the ongoing wars and the psychological wounds they create or the violence they unleash on loved ones at home, and When We Were Young and Unafraid might not drive that point home quite hard enough, but this viewer couldn’t help feeling the parallel.

As a democratic republic, we are responsible for the violence we manufacture, and for the violence we endorse. Many women and some men have stood up to shout: “No more!”

When We Were Young and Unafraid calls us all to say: it’s time for everyone to accept a share of responsibility. It’s time for all of us to stand-up.

Running Time: Two hours, including one intermission.

Advisory Warning: Contains sexual situations and references to domestic violence and rape. Recommended for ages 16 and older.

When We Were Young and Unafraid plays through July 8 at The Keegan Theatre—1742 Church Street NW, Washington, D.C. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 265-3767, or purchase them online.

Review: ‘When We Were Young and Unafraid’ at The Keegan Theatre by Julia Hurley


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