Photo by Don Kellogg

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mrs. Warren's Profession

Deception, lies, money, bribes, love, lust, an illegitimate child, prostitution... and that's just the first act!  George Bernard Shaw's world in 1893 wasn't far off from our own today.  Difference being, all he had was a pen, a stage, and actors to tell a provocative story his audience could see and hear no other way.   Shaw was a big believer in theatre that engaged the audience in the issues of the day rather than letting them escape from them - hence this stinging work he penned.

Set in four equal acts, the show depicts Vivie Warren (Sally Hawkins) as the young, well educated, pragmatic daughter of Mrs. Kitty Warren (Cherry Jones) who, in her coming of age, finds out that her entire upbringing and education was funded by her mother's secretive business endeavor - Brothels.  She briefly reconciles with her mother after coming to terms with the reasons her mother turned to such a life, but then quickly rebukes her after she realizes that the secretive business is not just a faded memory, but an ongoing operation.   Throw in a dirty older gentleman business partner (Mark Harelik) who seeks an "arrangement" to marry Vivie and keep the entire operation within the family, a dashing young suitor (Adam Driver) with no money who wants to marry Vivie for love (and her money), his father (Michael Siberry), the local vicar who strangely rejects the idea of his son's marriage to Vivie for suspicious "reasons undisclosed", and a worldly, trusted friend (Edward Hibbert).

Unfortunately, I don't think this play is going to be a Tony contender, although it surely entertained.  Jones is a powerhouse on stage, a force to be reckoned with.  However, Hawkins seemed to be screaming all the time rather than exuding her "power of the new age woman" - proud, educated, professional, independent, and ethically sound - as I believe Shaw meant the part to be - - a complete counter-weight to her mother's character.  The men on stage turned in sound performances, and certainly seemed to be enjoying their roles in this turn of the 19th century Payton Place drama.

I must say, despite some minor flaws i may have mentioned, I thoroughly enjoyed the show - I think more because of the story itself than the specific actors.  Shaw was a realist and this play contained real issues of the day (one might argue they are timeless).  At the end of the day, anything with Cherry Jones is worth seeing and almost anything at Roundabout Theater is worth seeing - a combo that, just like a steamy night at a red hot brothel, can't be passed up.