CURRENTLY IN PREVIEWS, “MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION" OPENS OFFICIALLY ON OCT. 3
by HENRY EDWARDS
How would you react if you discovered your mother had paid your college tuition by working as a prostitute? And what would you subsequently do if you found out that mom was still at it, currently owning and operating a string of high-end brothels, and that she was bursting with pride at her professional accomplishments?
Bernard Shaw devised those questions 115 years ago, and they provide the motor for the third of the profilic, Irish-born writer's thirty-nine plays, “Mrs. Warren’s Profession."
Currently in previews at American Airlines Theatre, Roundabout Theatre Company's revival opens officially on Oct. 3.
Two-time Tony Award winner Cherry Jones (fresh from her Emmy-winning turn as the first woman president, Allison Taylor, on the television series “24”) portrays Mrs. Kitty Warren, Victorian England's version of an upwardly mobile "career woman."
In her Broadway debut, Sally Hawkins co-stars as Mrs. Warren's Cambridge-educated, mathematically inclined daughter, Vivie.
Doug Hughes helms the production. Hughes previously guided Jones in her most successful Broadway outing, “Doubt." Director and star both took home well-deserved Tony awards for their efforts.
No stranger to Shaw, Jones previously acted the title character in Roundabout’s critically acclaimed revival of “Major Barbara.”
Hawkins, a recipient of Golden Globe and New York Film Critics Circle awards for her riotous turn in Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky," is taking her first crack at a Shavian heroine.
“Mrs. Warren’s Profession" occupies a place in theater history reserved for the small handful of plays that were banned by the establishment. Written in 1894, it remained unseen by the British public for thirty years after its composition.
When the play was performed in New York City for the first time in 1905, the cast was carted off in a paddy wagon and charged with disorderly conduct.
Shaw had set out to shock the audiences of his day, and at that, he obviously succeeded mightily.
Prior to “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” stage prostitutes were invariably portrayed as “fallen women,” inevitably fated either to undergo redemption or to be punished for their sins.
Loathing the unreality and sentimentality of Victorian melodrama, Shaw relished setting up moral dilemmas, only to turn the tables on his audience and gleefully defy their conventional expectations. Thus the character of Kitty Warren is no fallen woman. Far from it! The epitome of working-class pragmatist, Kitty is a woman whose choice of an anti-social, anti-religious career path, accompanied by enormous hard work, has made her rich.
Not only has Shaw's Mrs. Warren beaten the hypocritical Victorian social system on its own terms, but she also revels in her triumph.
That does not mean that Shaw endorsed prostitution. A lifelong socialist, the playwright labeled “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” the third of three "unpleasant" plays, each devoted to demonstrating that the real villain in every individual's life is capitalism, an economic system that corrupts every aspect of human activity and transforms everything in its wake into a commodity that can be sold for a profit.
Politics aside, more than anything else ,“Mrs. Warren’s Profession” survives as a morality tale that pits Mrs. Warren's sense of economic realities against her daughter Vivie's youthful idealism.
Refusing to succumb to the temptations of the day (organized religion, a prestigious marriage, a life of luxury, an appreciation of works of art and the love of a mother), Vivie Warren sets out to satisfy the emerging late-nineteenth century feminist ideal and live as a "new woman." She will not depend on anybody (especially a man) or anything except a passion for work and a no-nonsense approach to life.
It's a life that will be cold, hard, unsentimental and unromantic. And that's exactly the way Vivie wants it.
“Mrs. Warren’s Profession” is an intriguing play. The production runs through Nov. 28.