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BWW Review: An Underdone Gem Shines with Seattle Shake's MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION

Emily Chisholm and Bobbi Kotula in
Mrs. Warren's Profession at Seattle Shakespeare Company
Photo credit: John Ulman

When people think of George Bernard Shaw plays they inevitably go to "Pygmalion" or "Arms and the Man" or something like that. But there's one of his out there that does not see enough of the light of day, "Mrs. Warren's Profession". Maybe it's due to the subject matter or maybe not enough people know about it. Who knows? But it's long been one of my personal favorites so when I saw that Seattle Shakespeare Company was putting it up; you can imagine how excited I was. But of course the cynic in me quickly turned that excitement to trepidation with the thoughts of "Oh please don't screw up one of the few times this show will be done around here." Well lucky for me and for all you Dear Readers, who should rush out and catch this before it's gone, the Seattle Shakespeare Company does absolute honor to this fantastic work with some tight direction from Victor Pappas and performances to rival any production out there (yes, including the one I saw in New York a few years back).

For those unfamiliar with the play (and unfortunately that is far too many of you) we open on Miss Vivie Warren (Emily Chisholm), a young lady of refinement freshly out of University. Vivie has not wanted for anything during her life thanks to her mother, the well off Mrs. Kitty Warren (Bobbie Kotula). But Kitty while paying for everything has not been personally involved much in her daughter's life and so now that she's out of school Kitty intends to guide her into society and so she and her close friends Mr. Praed (Robert Shampain) and Sir George Crofts (Richard Ziman) drop in on Vivie. But just as soon as the pleasantries are exchanged so do the secrets of Mrs. Warren's past come out. And those secrets and just what she's done to afford this life could be quite embarrassing to young Vivie not to mention her gentleman suitor Frank (Trevor Young Marston) and his father the Reverend (Todd Jefferson Moore) who seems to have first hand knowledge of Mrs. Warren's profession.

So far I've been pretty cagey about saying just what that profession is, as is the play itself. In fact it never actually says the word prostitution (oh, I said it!) or really anything like it and that's one of the beautiful bits of the writing of this piece. It's replete with Shaw's wonderful witty banter but also remains quite tight lipped and proper about mentioning the unmentionable. And Pappas has managed to keep that air of secrecy throughout the show while still making sure that everyone involved (the audience included) knows exactly what we're talking about.

Trevor Young Marston and Bobbi Kotula in
Mrs. Warren's Profession at Seattle Shakespeare Company
Photo credit: John Ulman

The cast is nothing short of sublime with not one throw away or weak link performance in the bunch. On the contrary, each and every one of them has the clearest of intent at every moment while still remaining complex and layered individuals. Kotula turns in one of the best performances I've ever seen from her. Usually noted for her brassy musical theater roles, she shows that she's up to any dramatic challenge that may be thrown her way as she dives into the role with both feet and delivers a truly vulnerable and intelligent performance. Chisholm counterbalances her brash nature perfectly with her own brand of no holds barred behavior and commands every scene she's in. Moore lends a delightful air of nervous energy to the role with his fear that he could be exposed at any minute. Ziman blusters his way through the role and turns in one of the most deliciously vile beings I've seen in awhile but never takes him into the realm of cartoon villain. Shampain takes what can be a throw away role, solely there for exposition, and makes him a well thought out and engaging character that we are completely invested in. And then there's Marston who bounds onto the stage with a delectable devil-may-care attitude and never once lets it go even when his plans fall by the wayside. I was impressed with Marston in Seattle Shake's "Titus Andronicus" and was doubly impressed here, and we'll be seeing him in their "Romeo and Juliet" this spring. I think we all need to keep an eye on him.

Seattle Shake's "Mrs. Warren's Profession" is, to put it simply, a complete winner that honors the heart and soul of the piece and needs to be seen. And so with my three letter rating system I give it a YAY+. Do not let this one pass you by as you're not likely to see a better production (or really any production) of this gem come along any time soon.

"Mrs. Warren's Profession" from Seattle Shakespeare Company performs at the Center Theatre at the Seattle Center through April 10th. For tickets or information contact the Seattle Shakespeare Company box office at 206-733-8222 or visit them online at www.seattleshakespeare.org.



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From This Author Jay Irwin