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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Mrs. Warren's Profession

Also see Susan's review of Trumpery

A Separate Peace
Elizabeth Ashley and Amanda Quaid
The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., has created a gem of a production of George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession in its larger space, Sidney Harman Hall. Director Keith Baxter has molded an ensemble out of a cast of all-stars who know exactly how to wring laughter from Shaw's witticisms while clearly setting out the philosophical issues.

Shaw wrote the play in 1893, but its theme—that poor but "respectable" women live at the mercy of those around them, whether a husband or an employer, while prostitution may be such a woman's best economic choice—was shocking enough that the play was immediately banned. While issues of sexual politics have changed in the past century, the questions of economic justice in this play are, surprisingly, as relevant as ever.

The primary struggle is between a mother and daughter, both of whom seek success on their own terms. Vivie Warren (Amanda Quaid) is a serious-minded young woman with a degree from Cambridge and an iron determination to build a career in accounting—at a time when women did not have the vote. Her mother, Kitty (Elizabeth Ashley), has given Vivie the financial resources to help her make her own way, but Vivie has grown up with no knowledge of what kind of business her mother operates.

Quaid conveys, with both subtlety and sincerity, the moods of a woman who believes she knows exactly who she is and then has to start from scratch. Ashley is grandly autocratic in her turn, taking juicy bites out of her lines and showing the character's ability to manipulate those around her.

Just as good are Tony Roach as the aimless young man who knows he isn't mature enough for Vivie, but pursues her anyway; David Sabin as his father, a fatuous vicar with a past he'd rather forget (watch his shaking hands as he attempts to pour a cup of tea); Ted van Griethuysen as a dithering architect who, at one point, does battle with a recalcitrant lawn chair; and Andrew Boyer as a wealthy, unprincipled friend of Mrs. Warren.

Where Shaw's script may seem overly intellectual, Baxter has introduced a clever and effective balancing device: a few appropriate numbers from the English music hall featuring the very young Kitty (Caitlin Diana Doyle) at a point in her life between utter destitution and ultimate wealth.

Simon Higlett has created three eye-filling sets, as well as a gilded false proscenium, for the generous stage: a picturesque, flower-covered cottage; a rectory garden alongside a historic church; and an unadorned office in London. Robert Perdziola's costumes ably convey the character of their wearers, from practical to fanciful.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Mrs. Warren's Profession June 8th July 11th
By George Bernard Shaw
Vivie Warren, a recent Cambridge graduate: Amanda Quaid
Mrs. Warren, her mother: Elizabeth Ashley
Mr. Praed, an architect: Ted van Griethuysen
Sir George Crofts, Mrs. Warren's business partner: Andrew Boyer
Frank Gardner, Vivie's friend: Tony Roach
The Rev. Samuel Gardner, Frank's father and vicar of the local parish: David Sabin
Young Kitty Vavasour: Caitlin Diana Doyle
Cockney Bruisers: Kenneth Cavett, Michael Grew, Ben Loving, David Joseph Regelmann
Ensemble: Meredith Burns, Charlie Francis Murphy, Patrick Vaill
Directed by Keith Baxter
Harman Center for the Arts, Sidney Harman Hall
610 F St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or www.shakespearetheatre.org


Photo: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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