Mrs. Warren’s Profession is the type of play that will haunt you. Or at least, it should. When Sir George Crofts asks Kitty Warren about marrying her daughter, Mrs. Warren says,
“How do you know that the girl maynt be your own daughter?”
“How do you know that that maynt be one of the fascinations of the thing?”responds Crofts.
George Bernard Shaw saw the theater as a place for the playwright to address social issues and incite public discussion. In this case, the inequalities that drove young women to prostitution in the late 19th century. But what started as a commentary on gender injustice, quickly shifted to one of censorship when Mrs. Warren’s Profession was banned before it was ever staged.
Nearly120 years later The Antaeus Company, known for bringing ‘classical theater to Los Angeles,’ has revived a production that still struggles with the issues of censorship and has only been staged a handful of times since its first production in 1902. For the company bringing Mrs. Warren to this audience is a point of pride.
“We’re still here and we’re still doing it,” says Co-Artistic Director John Sloan.
With bits of dialogue normally omitted (including the one cited above) and solid acting performances, director Robin Larsen offers a production truer to Shaw’s onstage queries than the offstage controversies. Combined with Antaeus’ tradition of ‘partner casting’, a story that at one point could not be told at all, is now presented by two different sets of unique actors, a theater- goers’ treat.
Vivie, alternately played by Rebecca Mozo and Linda Park, returns home from university for what she believes is a short visit. Upon her return she is greeted by a number of suitors. The ‘unconventional anarchist’ Mr. Praed played by Bill Brochtrup or Arye Gross. Frank Gardner played by Ramón de Ocampo or Daniel Bess as something in between a young hero and a young Crofts. Sir
George Crofts played wonderfully despicable by Founding Antaeus Member Tony Amendola or That ‘70’s Show alum Kurtwood Smith. In addition, John-David Keller and Robert Machray share the role of Frank’s father, Reverend Samuel Gardner. Aside from all the misters, however, chief among Vivie’s concerns is the need to confront the one Mrs., her mother, Kitty Warren, played by former Drama Critics Best Actress Anne Gee Byrd. And most important to Vivie is for Kitty to answer two questions: Who is her father and what is her profession?
With minimalist staging, at most a few chairs, a fence, and a wooden slat blind wall that the audience can often see though (and often should be looking through) Larsen reduces the spectacle of the stage to convey the spectacular, sometimes wordy, language, using the history of the Warren family to explore Shaw’s original argument.
“…as long as poverty makes virtue hideous and the spare pocket-money of rich bachelordom makes vice dazzling, their daily hand-to-hand fight against prostitution with prayer and persuasion, shelters and scanty alms, will be a losing one.”
Kitty and Vivie are not only competing for familial roles, but for social and philosophical ones as well. And with each confrontation the answers only become more elusive. Every male on stage embodies some aspect of Vive’s (and all similar young women) father. Mrs. Warren’s is but one of many professions used to either disguise the truth or to give the truth a proper place in the world of respectable social circles.
“It’s so, right or wrong,” says Mrs. Warren.
Mrs. Warren is a gage of men’s secrecy (“Men of the world,” as Crofts suggests), and with all her houses scattered across Europe, and all her hopes to offer Vivie the chance for something better, it is Kitty Warren who emerges as the blackest viper in her Haselmere garden.
Vivie need not subscribe to the same belief system. Her resilience, her ‘unconventional’ beliefs, are all that she has and needs to combat the entanglements that have ensnared her mother. But to do so, she must break away from the past. And when you break away from old bonds you must do so absolutely. If not, there is always the chance for old moonlight to creep through to the dawn.
“I shall hit harder in ignorance,” Vivie declares.
And indeed, she does. But as Shaw might ask, does she do so hard enough?
Mrs. Warren’s Profession is playing at The Antaeus Company Theatre in North Hollywood, now through April 21, Thursdays, Fridays (Shaw cast), and Saturdays (George cast) at 8pm, Saturdays and Sundays (Bernard cast) at 2pm
For tickets and more information www.Antaeus.org or call (818) 506-1983