Mrs. Warren's Profession: Brilliant Polemics,
Also see Bob's review of The Importance of Being Earnest
Twenty-two-year-old Vivie Warren is awaiting the arrival of her mother Kitty at a summer cottage in Surrey. Vivie has had the benefit of a genteel upbringing and the best education while her absentee mother lived apart from her on the Continent. In short order, Vivie will learn that her privileged lifestyle has been enabled by Kitty's career as a prostitute and madam. At first, Vivie, believing that Kitty has left behind the life that she pursued out of financial need, accepts the mother whose absence she had resented. However, Vivie soon learns that the wealthy Kitty remains in the world's oldest profession for the joy of adding to her riches. Vivie, who has been taught traditional morality, rejects both her mother and the privileges of a lifestyle which could only be experienced by a woman who has independence and great wealth.
Director Emily Mann has chosen to present Mrs. Warren's Profession in an unusually dark manner. Grated, black painted, metalwork frames the top and sides of the reduced playing area, and similar materials can be seen on the rear stage wall behind Eugene Lee's spare sets. This approach sets up the powerful and compelling second half of this production. However, given the Shavian wit that is present and my anticipation of a more comically buoyant presentation, it took until then for this viewer to be swept up into Mann's ultimately powerful vision.
Suzanne Bertish is a handsome and convincing Kitty Bertish. However, Bertish seems overly histrionic during her final confrontation with Vivie. It seems possible that Bertish is attempting to clue us in to the idea that Kitty is trying to manipulate Vivie and is not seriously concerned about their relationship. In any event, it is not clear if this is Bertish's intention. Madeleine Hutchins convincingly portrays Vivie's straightforward honesty as well as her ambition to succeed by dint of her own abilities. Simultaneously, by allowing her voice to stray uncertainly, Hutchins manages to convey the idea that Vivie may well be a shortsighted victim of being taught inhibiting values which the successful ignore in order to enhance their status.
Rocco Sisto excels as the evil, villainous Sir George Crofts. It is the influential Crofts who has financed Mrs. Warren's business, and much of his fortune is the result of their partnership. During Crofts monstrous courtship of Vivie, with startling swiftness and believability, Sisto turns on a dime from a display of smooth, insinuating charm to one of powerful, fearsome threat. Edward Hibbert lends a jaunty, artistic air to Mr. Praed, a friend to Kitty, without any ties to her professional life. Michael Izquierdo is straightforward as Frank Gardner, Vivie's ne'er-do-well suitor, and Robin Chadwick underplays the humor of his hypocritical clergyman father, Samuel.
Bernard Shaw packs so many contentious and important issues and ideas into Mrs. Warren's Profession that seeing and hearing them is a feast for any thinking theatergoer. There is no playwright who better or more fairly presents all sides to an argument. The unfair and destructive treatment of women is in the forefront among the many issues here (It seems that in England at that time, prostitution was shunned in society, whereas on the Continent, it was largely regarded as normative.) For this viewer, the blatant, unbridled hypocrisy which has marked the political, business and financial scandals battering our country has made Shaw the most contemporary playwright being performed today.
Hail to Shaw. And hail to Emily Mann and the McCarter Theatre for bringing this revelatory play to us at this time. Mrs. Warren's Profession is as up to date as today's news reports, and more honest and insightful to boot.
Mrs. Warren's Profession continues performances (Evenings.: Tuesday/Wednesday,/Thursday/Sunday 7:30 p.m.; Friday/Saturday 8 p.m.; Matinees.: Sat. 3 p.m./ Sun. 2 p.m. – No 7:30 PM performance 2/15) through February 15, 2009 at the McCarter Theatre Center (Berlind Theatre), 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540. Box Office: 609-258-5050 ; online: www.mccarter.org.
Mrs. Warren's Profession by George Bernard Shaw; directed by Emily Mann