Saturday, March 19, 2016

Smokin’ performance of "Mrs. Warren's Profession" at Seattle Shakes

Emily Chisholm and Bobbi Kotula in Mrs. Warren's Profession (John Ulman)
Mrs. Warren’s Profession
Seattle Shakespeare Company
Through April 10, 2016

Take a bracing drag of cigar smoke and listen up: The GB Shaw production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession at Seattle Shakespeare Company is a cogent, smoking hot production!

The taut six-person cast, ably helmed by Victor Pappas, vigorously presents the story of a young woman, brought up with every advantage, finding out that her mother is actually a successful brothel owner. Raised by nannies and sent to boarding schools, Vivie Warren (briskly and independently played by Emily Chisholm) doesn’t really know her mother well, and is tired of the secrecy of her mother’s background.

Now that Vivie is grown and finished with university, she intends to make a new life for herself in actuarial work. Vivie eschews romance and art and leisure and loves to work. She thinks that will conflict with her mother’s ideals for her, and in some ways she is correct. But Kitty Warren (empathetically played by force-of-nature Bobbi Kotula) is more complex than that, finally revealing most of her background to her daughter.

Kitty grew up dirt poor with sisters whose prospects for work were in lead-filled factories (dying of lead poisoning) or waitressing or bar-maiding. She describes how another sister disappeared and reappeared with wealth and options, having used both her body and her smarts to succeed somewhat on “her own terms” by saving and owning brothels.

This play, written in 1893, is as modern as can be regarding the business environment’s use of both feminine labor and exploitation of female function. Echoes of factory work in China for Apple, sewing of garments in Indonesia and other such countries, are inevitable to reflect upon as you watch the play.

Vivie at first understands – for the first time – and then works at a complex level of distancing. She doesn’t want her mother’s money, but also, as many youth do, rejects her mother, entirely. She is a new breed of woman and Shaw postulates that one can leave behind everything that came before and start anew. That idea might give rise to an excited argument on the way home.

The men in the piece are useful to propel the story, but for once are more augmentation than focus. Richard Ziman is Sir George Crofts, a businessman who both supports and exploits Kitty’s business acumen. Robert Shampain is Mr. Praed, who turns a blind eye to Kitty’s business dealings, and tries to impart the importance of art, to little avail. Trevor Young Marston plays Frank, a conniving suitor to Vivie, who would like to live off what looks like a rich young woman. Todd Jefferson Moore plays Frank’s father, a reverend, who could possibly be Vivie’s father, or not.

This is a great production for a) people who have never been to Seattle Shakes, b) all families – there is little objectionable in even the words, but much to discuss about labor, getting rich off of others’ labor, women’s roles, and demonizing sex work, and c) anyone who thinks that “classic play” means “does not apply today.” And, of course, everyone else. So, get busy getting tickets.

For more information, go to www.seattleshakespeare.org or call 206-733-8222.