'When We Were Young and Unafraid' with Cherry Jones Opens Off-Broadway Tonight

By Jon Sobel on Jun 17, 2014 01:33 PM EDT

Two-time Tony Award winner Cherry Jones heads the cast of the world premiere production of When We Were Young and Unafraid, a new drama by Sarah Treem (House of Cards, In Treatment, Showtime's upcoming The Affair) about an underground women's shelter in the early 1970s. Directed by Tony Award winner Pam MacKinnon, the Manhattan Theater Club (MTC) production opens tonight at New York City Center's Stage 1 in a limited engagement through August 10.

The play takes us back to 1972, before Roe v. Wade, before the Violence Against Women Act, before the feminist revolution had taken full hold, when women in distress had few places of refuge. Agnes (Cherry Jones) uses her quiet bed and breakfast as just such a sanctuary for women on the run, but must face her own prejudices when young runaway Mary Anne (Zoe Kazan) begins to influence Agnes's own teenage daughter Penny (Morgan Saylor). The cast also features Obie Award Winner Cherise Boothe (Milk Like Sugar, MTCs Ruined) and Zoe Kazan.

Treem says that the irony of the play's title is that "these characters were never innocent, and they were never unafraid. The teenaged character, Penny, grows up afraid. She grows up in a house where she's fearful, and she just wants to be happy. She just wants to fall in love and live a life. But that is not always possible."

Pam McKinnon won an Obie and then received a Tony Award nomination for her direction of Bruce Norris's Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play Clybourne Park, and in 2013 received a Tony for helming a revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. She is directing the upcoming Broadway revival of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance starring Glenn Close and John Lithgow.

Cherry Jones won her first Tony Award for the 1995 revival of The Heiress and her second for John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winner Doubt. More recently she won an Emmy Award for her portrayal of President Allison Taylor on 24. On the occasion of her Tony-nominated portrayal of Amanda in The Glass Menagerie last year, Jones told The New York Times that "I used facets of my mother in basically everything I've ever played."

Now here's yet another complex mother character--and a brand new one this time--she has accepted the challenge of creating. While she's no longer young, she remains, at least on stage and screen, imposingly unafraid, which may make her an ideal star for a play about an era of struggling to overcome fears. "By the early '70s," she says, "women had had it, and the movement made it possible for women to start thinking about breaking out and raising their voices."

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TagsCherry Jones, Sarah Treem, 24, Pam McKinnon, Tony Awards, Obie Awards, The Glass Menagerie, Off-Broadway, broadway, A Delicate Balance

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