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New Play - from House of Cards Writer - Resonates in 2017 Political Climate

When We Were Young and Unafraid is set in the early 1970s, before Roe v. Wade, before the Violence against Women Act. Agnes, a single mother and former nurse, has turned her quiet bed and breakfast on secluded Whidbey Island into one of the few spots where victims of domestic violence can seek refuge.

And then stuff happens, the kind of stuff that invites the audience to consider the passion of youth, the wisdom of age, and the people who awaken us to new possibilities.

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati presents the regional premiere from Feb. 21-March 12.

When We Were Young promises to be an attention-grabber for a few reasons: the playwright is Sarah Treem, one of the writers of Netflix’s House of Cards and co-creator of Showtime’s award-winning drama The Affair. The timing, in the wake of last month’s global women’s march, will resonate in ways ETC could never have expected when it scheduled the play almost a year ago.

And it stars Christine Dye as Agnes, with Drew Fracher directing, two of the region’s top talents.

Dye was a fixture on local stages until the last few years. Now she’s getting film work: answering a phone at a boarding house in Carol (filmed in Cincinnati), getting killed by Bruce Willis, and look for her in Aftermath, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and opening in April.

“Who knew every movie needs a 50-something, plus-size woman?,” Dye muses good-naturedly.

You probably see Dye every day if you watch even a couple hours of TV. She’s the Miami Valley Gaming “Lucky Lucy” character and things are going so well she’ll be filming another dozen of spots in May.

When We Were Young lured her back onstage, or at least lured her back long enough to answer an invitation to audition. She had what ETC was looking for.

Dye likes the writing – Treem’s “language is the way real people talk to each other” and she admires her character. “Agnes has a calling, to quietly change things for people. People who do things so selflessly – they’re the heroes.” And she likes the “uncharted territory” of a script and character which aren’t established in people’s minds.

The Ensemble team, Dye reports happily, is still wrapping their heads around the timing thing. The topics - abortion, domestic abuse, choice – couldn’t be more pertinent today.

Dye and her daughters, Emma, 15, and Jane Davidson, 18, went to the women’s march in Washington and were early sign-ups. “It was in its infancy, but after the election they were – are – scared, and I said, We’ve gotta do something to make ourselves feel better.

“When we got there and saw all the people, I burst into tears.”

What the march and the play share, Dye offers is inspiration. “It tells us," she said, "maybe I can do something, too. Individuals can make change, motivate change.”

When We Were Young and Unafraid, Feb. 21-March 12. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, 1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $46, students $25, half-price rush tickets for all performances (when available), on sale day of performance two hours prior to show time and may be purchased by phone or in person at the box office. 513-421-3555 and www.ensemblecincinnati.org.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts

Photo: Tess Talbot and Christine Dye in When We Were Young & Unafraid (Photo by Mikki Schaffner/provided)