Mrs. Warren’s Profession—Theatre

The Shakespeare Theatre Company closes out its season with a winner, George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession.

Part Mildred Pierce, part Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Mrs. Warren’s Profession looks at morality through two conflicting points of views, those of mother and daughter.  The daughter, Vivie Warren, looks at life in terms of black and white, with no margin for compromise, while her mother, Mrs. Warren, sees life with room for large grey areas. Mrs. Warren’s “profession” has allowed her daughter to live a very comfortable, educated life–enabling her to live her life to her fullest potential. It’s unfortunate that the education and life experience her mother has made possible, makes Vivie so dogmatic and unyielding in her views. Therein lays the conflict and ultimate heartbreak.

Director Keith Baxter has assembled an excellent cast. Front and center is Elizabeth Ashley as Mrs. Warren. Although her voice is a tad raspier than her normal smoky voice, Ashley’s ability to use her voice gives her unfair advantage to any other actress who might assume the role. Amanda Quaid provide Vivie with just the right touch of vulnerability coupled with the certainty that comes with youth. All four male leads—Ted van Griethuysen as Mr. Praed, the architect, Tony Roach as Frank Gardner, Vivie’s friend and possibly more, Andrew Boyer as Sir George Crofts, Mrs. Warren’s business partner and David Sabin as Frank’s father and vicar of the local church as well as long-ago “friend” of Mrs. Warren—bring their “A” game to the Sidney Harmon Hall. Roach and van Griethuysen are especially good as confidante’s—both young and old—to Vivie.

I saw the play in previews, during which the cast performed under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The play calls for an intricate lighting system, which unfortunately failed. The cast was asked to perform with the house lights turned on for the entire play, breaking the barrier between audience and actors. That they more than rose to the occasion underscores the amount of talent on stage. Unfortunately for the audience, I’m guessing the lighting would have added to the dramatic effect and enjoyment of the play. However, the audience is treated to an absolutely gorgeous set. One can practically smell the countryside.

Director Baxter’s interpretation of Mrs. Warren’s Profession adds musical hall numbers to the play. Although well sung and performed, they really add nothing to the overall play and are, in fact, a distraction and a director’s conceit.

All in all Mrs. Warren’s Profession is very well done and should be seen just to take advantage of a terrific cast working at such a high standard, with or without lighting.

Shakespeare Theatre Company / Harman Center for the Arts

 Sidney Harman Hall 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20004

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