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A CurtainUp Review
Mrs. Warren's Profession
By Julia Furay
Dana Ivey stars as the title character in the revival of this thoughtful drama about capitalist corruption. Mrs. Warren is a woman who came up from the streets, graduating from prostitution to opening and operating a chain of brothels throughout Europe. When her educated, hardworking daughter Vivie (Laura Odeh) discovers the truth about her mother's profession. Vivie's varying reactions n affect everyone around her -- Mrs. Warren's friends as well as Vivie's suitors -- and make up the bulk of the dramatic action. So it's really Vivie's play. However, Dana Ivey's presence shifts the focus so that we're more interested in Mrs. Warren's story than Vivie's (and by extension, Shaw's) ultimate condemnation of the life she's led).
Ivey initially comes off as a shallow, silly flirt, but her confrontations with Vivie peel away her affected airs and bring out a cockney accent and unsuspected steely determination. Ivey makes it easy to see where Mrs. Warren's daughter gets her fortitude.
Ivey gives a strong performance and the rest of the cast is impressive, as well. Thank goodness they are, because Shaw's characters often seem created more as weapons for his attack on society than living, breathing human beings. Thus we could easily have just types. Take Frank, Vivie's flighty young suitor. On paper, he's only slightly more interesting than Freddy Eynsford-Hill from Pygmalion. But actor Kevin Collins brings a charisma and conviction to the character that makes Vivie's attraction to him believable and even touching. Odeh, in turn, is both businesslike and graceful as Vivie, so that we sense the real sacrifice she's making to hold on to her morals.
Mrs. Warren's Profession isn't exactly Shaw's most economical drama. It has a lot to say about prostitution, but later takes much of it back to take aim at capitalism instead. And so while the blustering, lecherous Sir Crofts (Sam Tsoutsouvas) may represent all that is wrong with capitalism it is his lecherousness that strikes the audience and it's his shady business dealings seem tame in comparison.
The play has structural faults as well. In addition to the revelations about about Mrs. Warren's past not being the shocking revelations they were a hundred years ago, the m any arguments and confrontations seem overly talky and circular. Facts about Vivie's paternity are brought up and dropped without much concern to anyone onstage. But it still works, despite dramaturgical and thematic clunkiness because of the performances and because director Charlotte Moore keeps the focus on the character and humor, rather than commentary, so that the play unfolds beautifully.
Shaw may have been pointing a finger at corrupt capitalism, but the deeper question -- that of selling out, or refusing to do so -- is certainly something that still resonates and makes the Mrs. Warren's Profession a fascinating evening at the theatre.
Editor's Note: This is one of 3 Shaw plays playing in Manhattan-- Candida at the Cocteau and a Kabuki influenced production of Major Barbara at La Mama (Until we review it, you can check details about performance dates and times in our Off-Broadway Listings. Another Shaw play, You Never Can Tell is on the boards in London. To read our backgrounder on George Bernard Shaw with quotes and links to Shaw plays we've reviewed, see our Shaw Backgrounder
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