Kathryn MacMillan’s production of Shaw’s play for the Lantern Theater Company, led by the perennially remarkable Mary Martello, provides rousingly intelligent entertainment and smartly done comedy.
Shaw can be enjoyed for his lines alone. This production allows you to admire how clearly Shaw assessed the world and how deftly and entertainingly he knew how to put ideas on the stage. No one is better presenting a thought-provoking argument in a play you can savor solely for amusement. While Shaw writes of his time, his principles and perception are so keen that he speaks to all times.
MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION certainly does. Whatever her vocation as the head mistress of a chain of European bordellos means for accruing wealth and social position, Kitty Warren (Martello) stands for a woman’s independence both from drudgery and dependence on men. What Kitty knows has been picked up by her daughter, Vivie (Claire Inie-Richards), although it must be from a kind of osmosis as Kitty sees only Vivie on fleeting visits to England while she spends most of her time running her houses in Vienna, Brussels, Ostend, and Budapest. Shaw shows how resolve and character can conquer the prejudice Kitty and Vivie would undoubtedly face in the business world of 1893, the year MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION was written.
From Dirk Durossette’s all-purpose, all-location set to the excellent performances turned in by MacMillan’s cast, this production explores Shaw’s timeless themes with humor and perspective. Martello aces the part of Kitty Warren. She has good company as David Bardeen excels in the difficult part of Praed. Andrew Criss is wily and gentlemanly savage as Crofts, and Daniel Fredrick is juvenilely darling as a mischievous but canny and socially adroit Frank Gardner. There’s also a stern turn by Inie-Richards as a particularly inflexible Vivie and a fine performance by John Lopes as Frank’s father, the Rev. Samuel Gardner.
It is to MacMillan and her cast’s credits that all of the big scenes, especially the various confrontations, reconciliations, and conflicts between Kitty and Vivie, play so interestingly, entertainingly, and keenly. Inie-Richards may not display much color or character range as Vivie — It’s hard to see why Frank thinks this is a woman for him — and may not have the same level of pointed delivery as Martello, but their scenes together rings as real, and both actresses know their characters well enough to let Shaw do the work.
MacMillan’s production touches deftly on all themes and character relationships Shaw has to offer. You get to savor the separate ways Kitty and Vivie regard female independence. You get to see two men, George Crofts and Frank Gardner, try their darndest to get what they want, only to be rebuffed by the wary and wise Vivie. You see Praed as the man who can get along with anyone. You understand the prejudice that would coax Frank or his father to seek and enjoy the company of Kitty but make them demur about introducing her to their wife and mother. You see some roots of women’s liberation, especially in Vivie’s realized resolve to hang a shingle, establish a business, and get to work.
In a Philadelphia theater season with an auspicious beginning, this production of MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION might be the most auspicious of all. Read more from Neals Paper >>>
[Lantern Theater at St. Stephen's Theater, 10th and Ludlow streets] September 15-October 16, 2016; lanterntheater.org.