Mrs. Warren's Profession
Remy Bumppo at Victory Gardens Greenhouse. By George Bernard Shaw. Dir. David Darlow. With Annabel Armour, Susan Shunk, Matt Schwader, Donald Brearley.
Further evidence that England’s Lord Chamberlain (the acting censor of the British stage) is a fellow historically terrified of sex is the 1893 banning of Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Shaw’s shrewdly unsentimental comedy about a starchy young woman who learns her estranged mother is a former prostitute and current international madam. A leader in the mass critical response that reacted solely to the play’s amoral take on libidinal juices and gender politics, the Lord Chamberlain missed the play’s more dangerous central agenda, which is an excoriating indictment of capitalism. Mrs. Warren may traffic in ladies of the night, but regardless of her product she’s a relentless profiteer. And while her daughter Vivie might be horrified to learn that her own schooling and rearing were financed by an unsavory endeavor, the fact remains that she couldn't have it so good unless somebody else had it rotten.
While Darlow’s production is more dry than wry, it does align itself with this idea, giving an undercurrent of heat to the scenes in which Vivie learns that her moral standards and economic reality can never match up (most notably in the final confrontation between Armour and Shunk as mother and daughter). But with the exception of Remy Bumppo first-timer Schwader, who lends an ease to the slippery role of Vivie’s opportunistic suitor, most of the performances feel like stiff, oft-revisited territory for this company that has stayed so close not just to its welcome repertory of thinking-man’s classics, but also its less welcome tendency of approaching them without variety. Mrs. Warren may not be entirely about sex, but it also shouldn’t lack for spice.