at Firehouse Theater Company

by Taylor Jo Oxley

When We Were Young and Unafraid provides a look at what open dialogue concerning women’s rights in 1972 was like. Firehouse Theater Company’s production at the John Hand Theater was a notable take on Sarah Treem’s 2015 play.

Upon arrival to the John Hand Theatre we settle into a lovely view of a quaint 1950’s bird-egg blue kitchen (set design artfully mastered by Jeff Jesmer), with the sounds of Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, and other pioneering female musicians of their era. A few minutes before the house lights go down teenager Penny, played by Sarai Brown, settles at the kitchen table reading a book by candlelight. The first dialogue we witness is between Penny and Agnes, the innkeeper, played by Suzanne Nepi. The conversation is about Penny’s schoolwork and about where she is planning to go to college. While this may not seem monumental, it reminds us that women were not always allowed the same privileges we enjoy today. Penny is set on going to Yale and Agnes has to ask her if women are allowed to attend. This is the first of many deep conversations that happen in this kitchen.

While the first act had some very poignant one liners, the overall content left much to be desired, to no fault of the cast. Treem’s script doesn’t pique the interest enough at the rising action of the play, it is the wonderful work of the cast that kept me in my seat. The second act picks up and hits heavy. We learn more about the women in this house, where they came from, and where they are going.

The relationship between Nepi and Brown is a complicated one, and I don’t want to give anything away, but they do a great job maintaining a realistic rapport on stage. Nepi absolutely aced her role as Agnes, giving her a sweet southern drawl while not letting that
overcast her strong female demeanor. Mariel Goffredi played the pivotal role of Mary Anne and did so with refinement and sensitivity to the subject at hand. We get to see the many different sides of Mary Anne, and Goffredi performed them with ease. Paul was played by John Wittbrodt, who we kind of grow to hate, purposefully. He tries playing guitar a few times and it’s unclear if his terrible pitch is deliberate or if he lacks talent musically. Kelly Uhlenhopp puts great effort into the role of Hannah. It is obvious that Uhlenhopp is a talented actress, and perhaps part of the role of Hannah is for comedic relief, but at times she played too eagerly. A
heartfelt “brava!” should be given to Sarai Brown who so genuinely portrayed Penny. She came through with the youthfulness the character warranted, while giving her the brazen edge that the script needed.

When We Were Young and Unafraid is a great reminder of how far we have come as women, but still how much farther we have yet to go. The timing of this production speaks loudly to what is happening in our society right now and the monumental steps that women are
making every day. Thank you to Firehouse Theater Company and director Abby Apple Boes for giving this play the time and attention it deserves.


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