SHAW’S BANNED 1893 PLAY
ABOUT FREE ENTERPRISE SHINES
WITH AN EXCELLENT CAST AND PRODUCTION TEAM.
A cougar is on the loose among the men and boys in George Bernard Shaw’s MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION, now on stage at Douglas Morrisson Theatre through March 6th. Shaw wrote this classic in 1893 but it was banned from public performance on the London stage by England’s official censor. Not because it involved the issue of prostitution but because it suggested that prostitution as a career choice might be preferable to the so-called legitimate choices. The play was performed for the first time at the New Lyric Club in a private production. When MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION premiered in New York City in 1905, the entire company was arrested by the police and the New York Herald wrote “It is morally rotten It defends immorality. It glorifies debauchery. It besmirches the sacredness of a clergyman’s calling.” It was not until 1925, 20 years later and 32 years after it was written (the same year Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature), that MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION received its first public performance.
This Hayward production is no cause for disorderly conduct, Director, Susan Evans, has assembled a skilled cast to stage this iconic classic. It is excellent and the conflict between mother and daughter is first rate. Evans says, “Shaw refuses to blame prostitution on the prostitute, and instead, as he himself puts it, 'throws the guilt onto the British public.' The questions the play provokes are just as uncomfortable and troubling for us in the 21st century as they were in Edwardian England. But audiences shouldn’t assume this is just an “idea play” –Mrs. Warren’s Profession is a very honest generational conflict between mother-daughter, and I love the way it refuses to resolve in any expected way”. Mrs. Warren is played by local favorite the dazzling Celia Maurice and she commands the stage along with the skilled Emily Scott who plays her daughter, Vivie Warren.
Evans adds great depth in the scenes with the forceful mother, and the clarity of the relationship between Maurice's Mrs. Warren and Scott's skillful performance as her daughter, Vivie. The mother’s profession may be what tells this story but Vivie takes center stage for most of this four act two and half hour play. Scott builds a clear arc in the first act as a privileged college graduate. She is Shaw's classic trademark “modern woman” forceful and determined. The men in the cast can be the pawns, and part of the Warrens' power struggle and plot twists. Tom Reilly plays the hungover Rev. Samuel Gardner with all his hidden secrets about the Warrens. Reilly is an experienced player and brings some comic relief to this performance and depicts the hypocrisy of the church. Mother Warren whirling from her daughter's admission of independence, Maurice strips her Victorian mannerisms to reveal the business woman beneath, as well as the prevalent profiteering of women that she has left behind and the extent of the brothels she runs, from Brussels to Budapest.
Nathaniel Andalis is suitably dapper and brazen as Vivie's presume love interest, he comes off as the perfect match and is believable. John Baldwin is solid, as the old rogue, Sir George Crofts, Mrs. Warren's well connected business partner. He is the key to many of the secrets and plot twists to Shaw's story. Craig Souza (from Theatre Rhinoceros) plays the radical adept Praed who provides the gently comic tone about the irrelevance of the arts to Vivie's dilemma, yet brings that Shaw complex to his performance.
Maurice and Scott are riveting in the family power struggle, the generational gap foreshadowed by Evans parallel staging of Mrs. Warren being strapped into her corset as Vivie unhooks and undoes her own. The beautiful period costumes designed by Daisy Neske-Dickerson and John Lewis, are exquisite on Mrs Warren, all her gowns are impressive. Vivie’s look is simple in pastels, and the men dapper and formal. The four settings designed by Giulio Perrone are open air and color toned by Allen Willner's lighting at times very green and industrial when needed. Perrone's four sets all differ but he dresses the proscenium with spring green trees and gated spaces. Cliff Caruthers sound design is an easy mix of natural sounds as the company is always coming and going but the two women have perfect stage volume.
Evans keeps the action moving and entertaining with sharp timing from her cast. The culmination in act four is accomplished as the two women have their showdown. Shaw has always explored insightful tales with biting wit. MRS WARREN'S PROFESSION is a moral work that is witty, moving and one of Shaw’s greatest plays. He said that “Mrs. Warren” will always deserve a place on the stage. I do agree with him and recommend an evening with Shaw and his progressive women this spring. DMT continues to brighten the East Bay area theatre community. Their next production is Lanford Wilson’s BOOK OF DAYS later this spring. MRS WARREN'S PROFESSION is thoughtful and in the perfect Shaw spirit celebrating women.
Douglas Morrisson Theatre presents
MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION
by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Susan E. Evans
with: Nathaniel Andalis, John Baldwin, Celia Maurice, Tom Reilly,
Emily Scott, and Craig Souza
February 11, THROUGH March 6, 2016
Douglas Morrisson Theatre,
22311 N. Third St., Hayward, CA 94546
Special Events: PRE-SHOW TALK: 7:10 pm Friday February 19
POST-PLAY DISCUSSION: Saturday matinee February 27
BOX OFFICE: (510) 881-6777; www.dmtonline.org
Photos by Terry Sullivan