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Mrs. Warren's Profession

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - October 27, 2021

Karen Ziemba and Nicole King
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Bernard Shaw's turn of the twentieth century play Mrs. Warren's Profession is a surprisingly light-footed affair in the revival opening tonight at Theatre Row. It does indeed entertain, but it seems as though Shaw's contemporary, Oscar Wilde, has been invited to the party this time around.

Apart from some interestingly skewed versions of British accents of the enthusiastically "pip pip cheerio" variety, the cast, a mix of established theater veterans and relative newcomers, does an effective job of offering up this genial production that clocks in at 100 minutes with no intermission.

Director David Staller, New York's go-to Shaw maven, provides a glimpse into the research he did by way of preparation. In a program note, Staller says he "referred word by word through my photocopy of Shaw's original hand-written manuscript and his four published versions" of the play, in which the playwright intentionally "subverted" Victorian mores and theatrical clichés. Imagine, then, a subverted version of The Importance of Being Earnest shaped to demonstrate that men, regardless of financial status, can afford to be self-important, self-indulgent fools, whereas women must be the savvy practical ones in order to make it in a world that limits their potential at every turn.

Other productions of Mrs. Warren's Profession, including its most recent Broadway revival, have focused on those limitations that led the title character (here splendidly portrayed by Karen Ziemba) to use her good looks, personality, and brains to escape a life of poverty by establishing herself as the proprietress of a bordello. In time, that enterprise expanded so that when we meet her, she is quite a wealthy woman and as independent as any man.

The term "Mrs." is intentionally misleading, a title Kitty Warren has given herself for business purposes. There never was a marriage, but there was a child, a daughter named Vivie (Nicole King, making her Off Broadway debut), whom she has supported from afar. Kitty's money has allowed Vivie to live comfortably and to attend college, where she became quite skilled in business math and is planning to study law. We meet everyone during a break in Vivie's studies when she is holed up in her country home, a bucolic outdoor setting designed by Brian Prather. Mom has decided to come for a visit and to reconnect with her daughter, now in her early twenties, whom she has barely seen since her birth.

Kitty imagines a lovely reunion with her child, but Vivie is now a grown woman whose lifestyle and education has shaped her own views on the world. The conversations between these two allow the play to explore its issues of gender inequality and to examine, as well, the "man's world" that Kitty has fully embraced for her own ends. In these moments, Shaw is at his argumentative best, and these one-on-one contentious encounters often become the explosive center of productions of Mrs. Warren's Profession.

Here, however, all of this is underplayed, while a good deal of this production is focused on the useless men that are part of Kitty's entourage or Vivie's world. It is the men who embrace the Oscar Wilde side of things: Vivie's childhood friend and would-be husband Frank (David Lee Huynh); Kitty's foppish pal Praed (Alvin Keith); Frank's oblivious father (Raphael Nash Thompson); and even Kitty's wealthy business partner and another of Vivie's suitors, Sir George Crofts (Robert Cuccioli), who believes he can essentially buy her. None of these men can hold a candle to either of the two women, which clearly reflects Shaw's perspective.

Mrs. Warren's Profession
Gingold Theatrical Group
Through November 20, 2021
Theatre 2 @ Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street, New York NY
Tickets and current Performance Schedule: Theatre Row's website