Take shelter

In the Chicago premiere of Sarah Treem’s When We Were Young and Unafraid with AstonRep,a group of multitudinous women navigate domesticity, violence, and identity in a cultural landscape that both oppresses and empowers. Set in 1972, just before the Roe v. Wade decision and 22 years before the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, the story is centered on Agnes (Julie Partyka), a middle-aged mother who runs a stealth domestic violence shelter out of her bed-and-breakfast on a remote island in Washington. She offers protection and safety to each of the women who comes through her door, inviting them into the world she’s created away from the turmoil of the real one. After she meets Mary Anne (JoAnn Birt), the latest woman to seek refuge, it’s clear that Agnes, who was once a woman ahead of her time, has fallen out of touch with the new age of feminism being ushered in by the next generation.

When We Were Young and Unafraid
Through 6/12: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM; the Edge Off Broadway, 1133 W. Catalpa, 773-828-9129, astonrep.com, $20.

It’s impossible to engage with the show’s subject matter without considering the social context in which it’s being performed. When We Were Young and Unafraid frames Roe as a signal of hope—for the younger characters, it’s a possibility for equality and opportunity. While Agnes poignantly questions the finality of the decision, it’s ultimately an indication that the women she cares for will be safe. As the Supreme Court looks to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022, the script takes a stance on what an America without choice looks like while also acknowledging that progress, in both a personal and political sense, isn’t linear. Director Sara Pavlak McGuire and the ensemble handle the profound subject matter with candor and care, while powerfully demonstrating the connections amongst the characters, influenced by their experiences and outlooks.

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