A girl and her mother are soon parted

This one’s an oldie but goody. Very old and semi-good. It’s George Bernard Shaw’s 1893 play Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Everybody knew, of course, what that profession was, but it was one of those activities that could not speak its name. Everyone knows what Shaw’s

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profession was, too. He wrote plays, as garrulously as possible. Which is what’s wrong with the Antaeus Company’s otherwise admirable production. Despite the best intentions of its excellent cast, Mrs. Warren’s Profession is tiresomely talkative. As usual, the Antaeus has double-cast the show and so the two casts are “The Georges” and “The Bernards.” The group I saw was The Bernards, with Arye Gross as Mr.Praed, a family friend; Tony Amendola, as Sir George Crofts, Mrs. Warren’s “special friend”; Robert Machray as the Rev. Samuel Gardner, Daniel Bess as his son Frank, and Rebecca Mozo as Vivie Warren, Mrs. Warren’s daughter. All presided over by the inimitable Anne Gee Byrd as the beautiful but practical Mrs. Kitty Warren. As was traditional in Victorian England, everyone without money aspired to marry someone with it. And so young Frank is actively pursuing Vivie Warren, whose mother has lots of money. Enough, in fact, to have put Vivie through Cambridge, where she pursued mathematics but was not granted a degree because women did not get Cambridge degrees in those days. Nevertheless, Vivie is a successful actuarial mathematician who is determined to have a career and never get married. She appears oblivious to how her mother acquired her wealth and then she becomes scornful when she learns the truth. Mrs. Warren is able to earn her sympathy, and even her respect, however, by describing the bleak life and soul-killing jobs she escaped from to become a successful Madam with bordellos all over Europe. But Vivie’s compassion turns to disdain when she learns that her mother not only likes her profession, but is still pursuing it long after she doesn’t need to any more. As Vivie’s suitor Frank says, “Mrs. Warren is a good sort but a bad lot.” And even though “society doesn’t ask any inconvenient questions, it’s only good manners to be ashamed.” The opportunities for young women in Victorian England were grim. Even with the jobs that were available to them (factory work, shopgirl, seamstress, or servant) the wages were so low that it was as if they had been sold into slavery. Which is why so many of them turned to prostitution, where the money was better—as were the living conditions. As Director Robin Larsen writes in the play’s program notes, “Mrs. Warren’s Profession is very much a story of discovering the connection between prostitution and all the business owners, institutional and individual investors, managers, financiers, lawyers, professors, politicians, customers and consumers who profit from the economic exploitation of women and girls.” He then goes on to note that “attitudes towards women have changed less than we’d like to believe.” Despite the varied messages that the play delivers, it is still interesting. Mostly because of the arch dialogue and the added contributions of the Antaeus design team: the consistently glorious costumes of A. Jeffrey Schoenberg, the set by Francois-Pierre Couture, and the sound and lighting by John Zalewski and Jeremy Pivnick, respectively. Well-presented theater—even a play as dated as this one—is always pleasurable to watch. Mrs. Warren’s Profession will continue at The Antaeus Company, 5112 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood Tuesday through Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 through April 21st. Call (818) 506-1983 for tickets. Photo: Anne G. Byrd and Arye Gross Photo by Karianne Flaathan