George Bernard Shaw will be remembered as one of the greatest playwrights in history, perhaps second only to Shakespeare in the pantheon of literary luminaries in the English-speaking world. His plot structures are elegant, his character development exemplary, his language and style peerless. But most of all, he will be remembered for his acerbic wit, his contempt for the cant and hypocrisy that permeates society, and his attacks on religion, sexual mores, and the capitalist system – all of which ideas found their way into his plays. Mrs. Warren's Profession, one of his most controversial plays, exemplifies all of that – which explains why it was banned in England for a decade before it was allowed to be produced in a members-only club in London and why it had to withstand continuing legal challenges to its production both in England and the United States for years afterwards.
Compassion Theater Company, founded just two years ago, deserves credit for attempting an Off-Off Broadway production of this multi-layered and highly nuanced play dealing with inter-
generational strife, conventional social mores, the capitalist economic system, class and marital relationships, prostitution, possible incest and, not least of all, early examples of feminist sentiments. But while the company deserves credit for its ambitious efforts, the realizations of those efforts leaves much to be desired and this production is ultimately disappointing.
For one thing, at least two of the actors are badly miscast. Vincent Petrosini, who plays the
role of the Reverend Sam Gardner, appears to be no older than Alexander Harvey, who plays
the role of his son Frank – an off-putting situation at best. And Carina Moses, who not only
produced the play but stars in the role of Mrs. Warren's daughter, Vivie, comes across as much too soft and tentative a personality in a role that bespeaks a harder, tougher, grittier woman. Beth Adler as Mrs. Warren and Dave T. Koenig as Sir George Crofts play their roles adequately and Franco Pastritto does bring some style to his role as Praed. But the one standout in the cast is Alexander Harvey who plays his role with considerable flair and whose eerie resemblance to Alan Cumming lends a mildly diabolical aura to his persona.
The lighting, set design and direction are also badly flawed. Understandably, Off-Off
Broadway theatre groups don't have resources sufficient to build extravagant sets, but that
doesn't mean that the minimal sets that they do produce must be as pedestrian and dreary as this one is. The director's conceit in having Mrs. Warren traipse off the stage and around the theater's aisles just doesn't work – other than to induce some sprained necks among audience members. And the lighting comes across as just plain haphazard.
In sum, the company deserves an A for effort but its reach really does exceed its grasp. Perhaps this is just too difficult and complex a play for a troupe with so short a history.
(Mrs. Warren's Profession is produced by Compassion Theater Company and plays at Shetler Studios & Theaters, 244 West 54th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenues, through July 25, 2010. Remaining performances are Tuesday 7/20 at 8pm, Wednesday 7/21 at 8pm, Thursday 7/22 at 8pm, Friday 7/23 at 8pm, Saturday 7/24 at 8pm, and Sunday 7/25 at 2pm and 8pm. Tickets are $17 ($15 students and seniors) and are available at www.theatermania.com, or by calling 212-352-3101.)