It is late summer 1905 and Mrs. Kitty Warren (Elaine Carlson), a seemingly wealthy woman with no known extended family, finally reveals to her curious adult daughter how she is able to support their comfortable lifestyle.
Up until now her mother’s profession has been a mystery to Vivie Warren (Tracey Greenwood) who has spent most of her life in boarding schools and in the country home of friends having little personal contact with the woman who provides her financial support.
Vivie, recently graduated from Cambridge, has grown to become an attractive, pragmatic, accomplished woman in her own right and the news of her mother’s challenges and life choices seems reflective of her own independence, thus evoking a sympathetic response.
The young woman has a suitor in the person of Frank Gardner (Chris Woolsey), a charming local ne’er-do-well whose father, Reverend Samuel Gardner (Ted Hoerl), is the local rector.
Mother Kitty is visiting with a small entourage including Praed (Ross Frawley), a rather foppish hanger-on who makes vain attempts to interest Vivie in the beauty of life, and Sir George Crofts (Jared Dennis), a stuffy Baronet with an eye for young girls.
I am not familiar with the original version by George Bernard Shaw but this world premiere adaptation by Melanie Spewock, directed by Michael D. Graham, is said to concentrate more on the relationship between mother and daughter which it apparently does.
Though well performed, the men in “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” are of minimal consequence to the outcome. They mostly provide dialog that moves the storyline forward.
Carlson and Greenwood both offer solid, well controlled performances that have the potential to go very wrong in less capable hands.
Shaw was no doubt breaking new ground writing this before the death of Queen Victoria who would certainly have not approved of the subject matter.
The author has an affinity for exposing upper class snobbery and hypocrisy and creating witty culture clashes between the British Classes, most famously with “Pygmalion.” In “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” he does so openly with no holds barred.
This is a fine chance to revisit a work by a classic playwright while viewing it in the light of current sensibilities.
Mrs. Warren’s profession has been referred to as the “oldest profession” but what does that mean in today’s more sexually open society? Shaw might be criticized for paying little heed to the darker aspects of the sex trade. But in his day the mere fact that he was openly speaking about it was certainly a bold move. So consider this a jumping off point for a thought provoking discussion or personal contemplation.
DETAILS: “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” a Promethean Theatre Ensemble production, is at Otherworld Theatre, 3914 N Clark St., Chicago, through March 29, 2020. Running time: 2 hours plus a 10 minute intermission. For tickets and other information visit MrsWarrenPTE.
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