How timely and sadly appropriate that the latest version of Mrs. Warren’s Profession (last seen in these pages in 2008) should come on the heels of the Jian Ghomeshi debacle.
Although George Bernard Shaw and the world around him were no neophytes to bullying-due-to-position and sexual inappropriateness, the sorry truth is that nothing has really changed since his era which only serves to make his insights and commentaries into human foibles all the more relevant and telling to ours.
Director Eda Holmes has seized on the play’s first performance “ghettoization” to a private “gentlemen’s” club (the uptight Lord Chamberlain refusing to grant a permit for public consumption in 1902) and turned that fact into the conceit for this mother-daughter tale of “honest” work (whatever that might be…), er, on its ass.
Employing tableaus of exclusively male club members shamelessly taking selfies in their den prior to the actual “curtain” effortlessly bridged the centuries’ divide, visually reminding one and all that, just like the disgraced CBC host, men being boys and getting away with it, has not gone the way of the dodo bird in the 21st century.
In the title role, Nicole Underhay exudes the confidence, charm, fearlessness and inwardly nervous Woman of the Night who’s amassed a fortune due at first to her compelling looks then her savvy business acumen, providing comfort, release and companionship to thousands of men willing to pay for the privilege of not sleeping with their wives. (One can only hope for a courageous director to bring new meaning to gender-blind casting and serve up Mr. Warren’s Profession at a, future, er, outing of this timeless script.)
Jennifer Dzialoszynski is a model of stoicism, smarts and stubbornness in the challenging role of Vivie Warren, daughter of the exceptional hooker who initially savours her generous allowance even as the identification of her father remains a family secret of the highest order.
Thom Marriott is superb in his study in slime, playing Sir George Crofts with a shameless, money-and-power-are-everything tone that can only make his present-day counterparts green with envy (acquitted or not).
The representative of art (in this case architecture) Gray Powell as Praed is a welcome tonic to Sir George, inwardly knowing (just like his creator) that his own desires occasionally rise above the hallowed vocation.
The father-and-son team of Reverend Samuel Gardner (Shawn Wright is the epitome of shallow saviour of his flock: Why write sermons when you can buy them? being a marvellous echo of putting down a cash offering for a few moments of adulterous bliss) and boy-man without a future Frank (Wade Bogert-O’Brien is entirely believable at every wayward turn, whether wooing Vivie or sharing a far-from-motherly kiss with Mrs. Warren in a moment of apparent weakness on both parts) are dutifully utilized by the sage playwright as he artfully skewers his principal (if not principled) characters and their admirers.
The production team, ably led by Patrick Clark whose “club” set provides the requisite reminder of privilege in constant silence (the bust prop is a wonderful touch of all-seeing artistry) along with Kimberly Purtell’s ever-functional lighting, are in total support of Holmes’ vision.
It is productions like this which, by taking no prisoners then and now, on stage and in the script, convincingly demonstrate the relevance of theatre in general and the Shaw Festival in particular to all those who care to see and hear. JWR