Tuesday, July 26, 2016

MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION misses the mark at The Shaw

At the start of The Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession we are told that we are in the London [England] New Lyric Club.  It is Sunday, 5 January, 1902.  The reason the play is going to get a staging at the club, rather than in a theatre, is that the Lord Chamberlain, Britain’s official theater censor, has banned the G. B. Shaw play.  As such, it cannot be performed in a public venue.  Thus, the use of the private men’s club. 

The play, which was written by Shaw in 1893, was taboo, due to Mrs. Warren’s Profession—prostitution.  Because she had a good head for business, she ran a series of brothels.

Mrs. Kitty Warren was driven into what was considered then, and still is regarded as a degrading line of work, by the limited number of opportunities available to women.  Besides getting married and being taken care of and the serving as the property of her husband, females had few opportunities for gainful employment.  Being a nun, a nurse or a barmaid, headed the list.

The tale centers on the relationship between Kitty and her daughter, Vivie, who has no idea how her mother was providing the money to support her journey through residential private schools and college.  In fact, as the play opens, we are apprised that the young lady, who has just graduated from university, has come home to become acquainted (not reacquainted) with her mother.

When Kitty, in a telling and well-presented, underplayed compassionate speech, reveals her profession, and what led her down that occupational path, she exposes Shaw’s thesis of the hypocrisy of British nineteenth and early twentieth century attitudes toward women, the limited opportunities available to females in Victorian Britain, and the general hypocrisy of the society regarding sex and prostitution, in particular.

The daughter, a modern young woman, with an honors degree in Mathematics, rather than being interested in a suitor, desires to be a business woman and fend for herself rather than being the chattel of a man.

In spite of her daughter’s desires Mrs. Warren, who is not married, in spite of using the “Mrs.” title, arranges a meeting between Vivie and Mr. Praed, a handsome and desirable architect.  Things get complicated when Sir George Crofts, who is 25 years older than Vivie, wants to take her for his wife. Frank Gardner, who is romantically interested in Vivi, is revealed as being after her only for her money, and the married Reverend Samuel Gardner, Frank’s father, is revealed as Vivie’s out-of-wedlock father, making Frank Vivie’s half-brother.

The tale comes to its conclusion when Vivie takes an office job, ends her relationship with Frank, and disowns her mother.

Shaw supposedly said that he wrote the play to shine the light on “the problematic double standard of male privilege and deeply entrenched objectification of women,” which he saw “pervading all levels of Victorian society down to the most basic nuclear element, the family.”

The Shaw production, under the direction of Eda Holmes, develops the Shavian intention, but there are staging decisions and performance instances which are problematic.

We are told at the start of the play that the action will take place in the London [England] New Lyric Club’s main hall.  That we will be using our imagination to “see” the cottage garden, inside the cottage, and the Rectory garden.  Fine, we are prepared.  Why then, were the furniture and adornments of the room changed during the production?

Though Mrs. Warren’s speech to her daughter regarding her profession was well done by Nicole Underhay, why did she so overact other dramatic segments, especially the final scenes?  She lost the reality of the role by her melodramatic speech and action patterns.   The same could be said for Shawn Wright who stayed on the surface, feigning a character as Reverend Samuel Gardner.

The physical differences between the petite Vivie (Jennifer Dzialoszynski) and the hulking Sir George Crofts (Thom Marriott) were so dramatic that it made their joint scenes look like a farcical illusion. 

Acting honors go to Jennifer Dzialoszynski (Vivie), Wade Bogert-O’Brien (Frank) and Gray Powell (Praed).

Capsule judgment:   Mrs. Warren’s Profession is classic Shaw, filled with a critique on the economic system, the double standards applied to men and women, the objectification of women, the British family system, marriage, and parent-child relationships.  Unfortunately, the well-conceived script gets a less than stellar production due to some questionable directing decisions and a disappointing performance in the title role.

Mrs. Warren’s Profession
is presented in the Royal George Theatre through October 16 at The Shaw Festival and is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw and his writing contemporaries.  The Shaw has been dubbed “One of the great repertory theaters in the English-speaking world.”

For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com.