BWW Review: MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION at SHEA'S 710 Theatre
Thought Provoking Shaw Shines with new Theatre Alliance in Buffalo
Something exciting has happened in the former Studio Arena Theatre, now known as Shea's 710 Theatre. The Shaw Festival, Canada's only Bi-National Theatre Company, has forged an alliance across the border with Shea's Buffalo Theatre to present one of their productions at Shea's 710 each season. Given the caliber of last night's opening of George Bernard Shaw's MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION, Buffalo has added another gem to it's theatre community. In it's heyday Studio Arena had a national reputation of presenting cutting edge theatre with world class actors and those who still remember that era should flock back downtown to witness 710's rebirth.
Director Eda Holmes has made some wise decisions in choosing to change the the setting from Victorian times to present day. In her director's notes she describes how the subject of MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION, (aka, the oldest profession), was much too risque even to be presented in a public theatre and was banned by censors. Never being afraid of controversy, Shaw ultimately presented his tale of prostitution in a private gentleman's club. Holmes took this historic cue and has set this production in the paneled walls of a present day gentleman's club, celebrating an anniversary of the original production. The club's members set the scenes, describe the makeshift set using Shaw's own stage directions, and act out the drama with the assistance of some willing ladies. Holmes relates how the script is timeless in elucidating men's superiority over women, and in placing the action in a private gentleman's club, this hierarchy is ultimately set up by virtue of the inherent rules of the club. Set designs by Patrick Clark are appropriately lavish in detailing the paneled library of the club.
This updating may seem gimmicky, but as the play unfolds, the costuming and sets fade away to reveal a deep undertone of female subjugation. Nicole Underhay, as Mrs. Warren, is set to meet her mostly estranged daughter Vivie, who recently has graduated from University. Vivie is a strong forthright young woman who knows nothing of her mother's profession. The play's intensity unfolds when Jennifer Dzialoszynski as Vivie sits down with her mother and learns the truth of Mrs. Warren's past.
Ms. Underhay commands the stage with the elegance and the dominance of a woman in control when she is surrounded by other men. Her fortitude eventually crumbles as she reveals her profession to her daughter. The glamorous Underhay manages this transformation through subtle changes in voice, from proper English to street cockney as she relates her miserable childhood. Dzialoszynski is a petite spit fire who has become a self sufficient young woman, but manages to convey her inner turmoil of having a privileged education by means of her mother's money, while lacking any familial love towards her mostly absent mother. We learn how Mrs. Warren spent her life traveling around the world managing brothels with her business partner Sir George Crofts (Thom Marriott).
Mr. Marriott is seasoned veteran actor of the Shaw Festival, and his nuanced portrayal of Crofts shone in his private encounter with Vivie. Marriott is perfect as the rich, sleazy middle aged man who believes that his wealth can win Vivie's hand in marriage. Dzialoszynski matched his unwanted advances with hilarious blunt candor, proving that she was a force to be reckoned with, not only with her mother, but all those who surround her mother..
Vivie's young suitor Frank Gardner is deftly played by Wade Bogert-O'Brien. Energetic and playful, Bogert-O'Brien showed true exasperation and bewilderment towards Vivie and her struggle to love or hate her mother. Gray Powell, as Praed, and Jeff Meadows, as Reverend Gardner rounded out the talented cast.
Ms. Underhay's denouement comes as she pleads for her daughter's love. Underhay is brilliant here as the torn mother who assumes that her money would eventually provide her the daughter she needs to take care of her in her old age, believing that money can buy affection and love-- obviously a reference to the inherent nature of her profession.
This provocative cutting edge play shows that Buffalo yet again deserves to have high quality theatre playing at Shea's 710 Theatre. Along with our local theatre companies, the Shaw Festival hopefully will enjoy a comfortable long time permanent home on this side of the border.
The Shaw Festival's production of MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION plays at Shea's 710 Theatre from November 3 - 13, 2016. For tickets, contact ticketmaster.com or visit Shea's Buffalo Theatre Box office.