Stacy Ross stars in, When We Were Young and Unafraid at Custom Made Theatre.

Agnes (Stacy Ross) stitches Mary Anne’s (Liz Frederick) wound as Penny (Zoe Foulks) looks away  in “We were young and unafraid” at Custom Made Theatre.

When We Were Young and Unafraid:Drama by Sarah Treem. Directed by Tracy Ward. Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. (415) 798-2682 or www.custommade.org.

January 17- February 9, 2019.

Stacy Ross stars in, When We Were Young and Unafraid at Custom Made Theatre. Rating: ★★★★☆

Sarah Treem has set the time of her play When We Were Young and Unafraid as 1972 when the fight for women’s rights was practically in its infancy even though the National Organization of Women (NOW) had been in existence for 10 years. In 1972 (the year before Roe vs. Wade) the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was established setting in motion questions of gender inequality in the work place. But there was no specific attention paid to spousal abuse. Treem has taken a page from the kitchen-sink plays portraying social injustice using a specific set of characters to reacquaint audiences with that damaging era lest we forget.

The action takes place in the kitchen of a modest Bed and Breakfast Inn on an island off the coast of Washington State. The protagonist is Agnes (Stacey Ross) a former nurse who has a mysterious past and uses  the Inn as sort of an underground railroad for abused women. She has a 17 year old daughter Penny (Zoe Foulks) who has an inside track to Yale University. Into this non-bucolic setting arrives Mary Anne (Liz Frederick) bruised and battered by her husband. She bonds with Penny who is insecure about her perceived lack of attractiveness as the reason she has not been asked to the prom. She also has a crush on the football team captain who has a questionable personality and reputation.

Mary Anne is a pro at attracting men and that probably is one attribute that led to her abusive relationship.  Mary Anne gives Penny specific methods for getting “her man” and those specific lessons will send shivers up your spine knowing full well that such manipulations can only lead to trouble and it does.

Into this refuge barges Hannah a militant lesbian (Renee Rogoff) searching for Womyland a nearby commune. She is friendly, outspoken, a whiz at repairing things and soon is sharing the muffins and coffee doled out by Agnes while implicitly trying to convert Agnes to “the cause” because “Things are a changing.”  Maybe so, but skeptical Agnes has personal experience harboring those spousal abused women and knows many will go back to their abusers.

To Treem’s credit she has given Mary Anne dialog justifying (or rather explaining) why she has called her husband telling him where she is staying. Hannah is incredulous and the first act curtain is a shocker ending with banging on the door and a telephone call to the police.

Author Treem is a noted writer of TV scripts (Netflick’s  House of Cards and the series In Treatment) and this play is a series of blackouts and one can visualize that this construction leaves time for commercials. This is legitimate criticism but has only a moderate negative effect of a tightly written depiction of the adverse effects on social behavior that deeply affected the women’s movement to gain equality.

Stacy Ross underplays the lead role perfectly and one can feel Agnes’s angst when she sees her controlled surroundings begin to shatter and are not helped by muffins and coffee. Liz Frederick is perfect as Mary Anne the abused wife. As mentioned, her lessons to Penny on how to “catch-a-man” are extremely effective.  Zoe Foulks gives a superb performance as the insecure Penny making her faulty acceptance of Mary Anne’s teachings more heart-breaking. It is Renee Rogoff as Hannah who earns a major share of the accolades and adds the humor needed for balance in a script that is loaded with injustice.

There is only one male character, Paul (Matt Hammons) that is not well drawn but is needed to allow a plausible ending.

Director Tracy Ward balances the varied motifs allowing the scenes to adroitly dovetail keeping the storyline intact and allowing her actors to control or share center stage.

Bernadette Flynn’s detailed kitchen set will surely be nominated for awards. Although there is a question about the need for the trap door in the kitchen.

CAST: Agnes, Stacy Ross; Penny, Zoe Foulks; Mary Anne, Liz Frederick; Paul, Matt Harnmons; Hannah, Renee Rogoft.

CREATIVE STAFF: Director, Tracy Ward; Scenic Designer, Bernadette Flynn; Costume Designer, Coeli Polansky; Lighting Designer, Haley Miller; Sound Designer, Jerry Girard; Properties Designer, Stephanie Dittbern.

Running time about two hours with an intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.