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A CurtainUp Review
Mrs. Warren's Profession

By Julia Furay

A Second Look at this 100+ Year Old Hit
by Elyse Sommer

Thanks to uniformly glowing reviews, this outstanding revival has been extended and if anything, praise and the sold-out performances (at last Saturday's matinee, some of the overflow audience was accommodated on chairs placed in the aisle) have made the performances even more satisfying than when Julia Furay reported on this production. I caught up with Mrs. Warren shortly after seeing another worthy Shaw revival (Candida) at the Cocteau. Both of these excellent productions are blessed with superb performances by the title characters -- though Amanda Jones's Candida stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, Dana Ivey's Mrs. Warren has a fully equal partner in Laura Odeh's Vivie Warren who reminded me a bit of a young Wendy Hiller (the original flower girl in Shaw's Pygmalion. The Irish Rep's entire cast is just about flawless. They speak the lengthy dialogue without any accent problems, with Ivey particularly astute in the way she slips in and out of low-born vernacular when excited.

The issues raised by the play -- the entrepreneurial spirit of women like Mrs. Warren and the willingness to overlook morals in the interest of profit -- were made especially timely by a news item the day after about a modern practitioner of the oldest profession, Heidi Fleiss. Madams like Fleiss no longer keep their professional activities under wraps -- especially in Nevada where prostitution is legal and where Ms. Fleiss is setting up shop as the madam of the first ever brothel catering to women. Compared to this Mrs. Warren's Profession is hardly shocking nowadays -- but it most certainly is one of the most enjoyable and well-acted plays to be found in Manhattan. Take advantage of the extension to February 19th.

Do you think I did what I did because I liked it, or thought it right, or wouldn't rather have gone to college and been a lady if I'd had the chance? --- Mrs. Warren

Dana Ivey
Dana Ivey
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
George Bernard Shaw wrote his plays with such political passion and purpose that they became manifestos as well as dramas. This genius, which made him so famous a hundred years ago, presents interesting questions here in the present day. Now that his Victorian social criticism is more than 100 years old, what exactly propels his dramas? The answer can be found onstage at the Irish Repertory Theatre, where a centennial American production of Mrs. Warren's Profession is playing until January 29.

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

Playwright: George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Charlotte Moore
Cast: Kevin Collins (Frank), Kenneth Garner (Rev. Samuel Gardner), Dana Ivey (Mrs. Kitty Warren), Laura Odeh (Vivie Warren), David Staller (Mr. Praed), Sam Tsoutsouvas (Sir George Crofts)
Set Design: Dan Kuchar
Costume Design: David Toser
Lighting Design:: Mary Jo Dondlinger
Sound Design: Murmod, Inc.
Wig and Hair Design: Rebecca Goldenstein-Glaze.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes one intermission
Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street, (212) 727-2737
From 12/9/05 to 1/29/06--extended to 2/19/06; opening 12/18/05
Weds to Sat @ 8pm, Matinees Weds, Sat and Sun @ 3pm
Tickets: $50 and $45; Students and Seniors may receive a $5 discount on each ticket purchased w/valid ID (Students currently enrolled or Seniors over 65). Rush tickets are available one hour before the performance for $20.
Reviewed Julia Furay based on December 15th performance.
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