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THEATER REVIEW Mrs. Warren's Profession
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2020-03-13

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Playwright: George Bernard Shaw

At: Promethean Theatre Ensemble at Otherworld Theatre, 3914 N. Clark St. Tickets: $30; PrometheanTheatre.org . Runs through: March 29 [suspended because of COVID-19 outbreak]

[NOTE: Performances have been suspended due to COVID-19, but Windy City Times feels this review should run to acknowledge the work of the artists involved.]

Contrary to legend, references to sex weren't what outraged critics at the 1902 premiere of George Bernard Shaw's latest "problem" play—earlier audiences had survived Ibsen, after all—but the author's audacity in presenting the topic alongside the word "money" thus exposing a link that polite society of his time strived mightily to ignore.

To be sure, contracts of an erotic nature between mixed genders in 2020 have been divested of the mystery that obscured their practical underpinnings in a less enlightened age, making candid discussion unobjectionable nowadays—but start talking about the lucrative dividends generated by real-estate investment in "private hotels" providing harlots for hire, and the juices begin to flow.

The economics of intercourse—both carnal and commercial—are at the center of Melanie Spewock's brisk two-hour adaptation, which dispenses with Shaw's more protracted philosophical musings to focus instead on the ethical conflicts between Mrs. Kitty Warren, whose managerial skills in the—um, hospitality industry, have rewarded her lavishly, and her estranged daughter Vivian, whose Cambridge degree and mathematical acumen has groomed her for a successful career in the traditional masculine spheres of business and finance, while instilling in her a repugnance for the life of pampered idleness her mother envisions for her.

As the two strong-minded women argue the righteousness of their respective goals, opinions and commentary—both largely ignored—are contributed by sundry male companions. They are bookish aesthete Praed, who proclaims himself an anarchist, but wilts at the slightest sign of contention; boyish charmer Frank, who regards "Vivvums" as his childhood chum and future bankroller; reformed rakehell Rev. Gardner, whose holy office barely conceals the evidence of his youthful indiscretions; and materialistic Sir George Crofts, unabashed sensualist and supplier of the seed money for the Warren empire.

The text is not the only element undergoing changes in size facilitating its configuration to Otherworld's compact Bradbury stage. Scenery is minimal, with hosts frequently fetching chairs from offstage for newly arrived guests, augmented by split second-timed sound effects and costumes period-perfect to the last chemise and petticoat. To compensate for this spartan stage picture, Michael D. Graham's direction makes extensive use of the subtly nuanced body language visible to spectators seated at close range: the men's individual reactions to Vivian's bone-crushing handshake, for example, or the Edwardian-diva affectations adopted by Kitty at her most manipulative—all executed without a hint of exaggeration teetering toward self-conscious camp.

Oh, and playgoers prepared to take offense at the irreverence of entertainment based upon the atrocity of human trafficking may note that post-show donations are solicited in support of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation—with wicked George Crofts, naturally, serving as collector.


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