When We Were Young and Unafraid
A review by Marylyn Motherbear Scott
For me, 1972 was the first year of a Back-to-the-Land trip on an unincorporated piece of land in the medium-high hills of the coastal mountain range. From the vantage point of the psychedelic revolution which preceded the migration to the land, it was the “high” hills. That revolution took place on the inner plane and was, for the most part, an experience of non-violence and raised consciousness. We were making the world the way we wanted it, by creating a new base. Raw land. A neo-pioneering, pastoral setting in which we would do things in a basic earth-bound manner.
The play takes place in 1972 in a back-on-the-land scenario, on an island, off the coast of Washington State. Go west. As far as you can and then some. Swim in the shifting currents of consciousness. Those whose greatest need was to escape from the existing culture either because of ideology or a personal dilemma, will fan the tides that take you there:
Agnes, a mother who runs an shelter for abused women, serves those in need with an iron-clad and definitive will. She is strong and consistent, keeping her reasons for being who she is, securely unsaid until the last lines of dialogue. Played by Catey Simonton.
Penny, a teen who is going through a shift, as most teens do, and is unhappy with the status quo, with the form that love assumes. In the throes of adolescence, she questions whether or not it’s okay, nay desirable, to be smart and confident rather than dumb and sassy. Played by Frances Jenks.
Mary Anne, arrives out of a dark night of the soul, her face cut and bruised from spousal abuse. She is scared and in love with power; romantic and wants to be held in the arms of family. Played by Nicole Traber.
Paul, the singular man on stage, arrives in the midst of a separation or divorce. Escaping San Francisco in the heyday, he carries the values of an era past. He is cool, indifferent and kind. A simple man with simple needs. Played by Dan Mello.
Hannah, spokesperson for a new world, shows up with a new lexicon. Feminism. Lesbianism. Do-it-yourself freedom. Played by Savannah Green.
In the meantime, here in the off-stage world, we celebrate Mother’s Day. While reflecting thus, it occurs to me that no matter the spoken themes of the play — abuse, abortion, trauma, the subtle subject matter, in every case, revolves somewhat around motherhood. I’d like to tell you how, but do not wish to spoil. I can tell you that each of the characters is somewhat engaged, if not driven, by their unspoken relationship to mothering and to having children.
The real-time content is spoken to within rather than to other, chin tilted down, almost whispered, to the actor’s chest, as if the listener and the heart of the matter resides somewhere inside. I missed some of the words as they dropped away into the interior space that is held inviolably within the self.
This play is ostensibly about women’s issues, leaving men in the quandary of confusing circumstances and disempowering addictions. The age-old questions are present, but in the somewhat shredded threads of what has always been, in the question of what is love and what are its bindings, in the question of how the experience is passed on to our youth as they struggle for a freedom that their mothers never had.
These hard questions and shifting times are never easy. There is some humor afforded even as we struggle with difficult issues. The cast does well, each one brings the character forward for us to make our own reflection. Thank goodness for freedom-loving do-it-yourself Hannah Savannah. She brings a much needed light and lightness to the goings-on. We know, for certain, if we do not do it for ourselves, it may not happen at all. You don’t have to be young, just unafraid.
“When We Were Young and Unafraid” continues through May 29.
For tix, call Mendocino Theater Company (707) 937-4477