Every now and then you come across a show that feels too small, almost too intimate to be done on stage. I felt this way about Mrs. Warren’s Profession at Douglas Morrisson Theatre which was honestly a bit of a shock to me, since they choose and do work I usually quite enjoy. This seemed a small show, (despite the “big ideas” at the center of it) but given its intimate nature, it seemed too small for this giant stage. Words, actors and concepts alike seemed to be swallowed up, along with some of my attention. For the record, I’ve seen this play done on a smaller stage several years ago, and it didn’t leave a notable impression then either, so this really might just be a case of a play I can’t personally fall for.
While significantly shorter than a lot of Shaw’s works (just 2 hours), it also seemed honestly, not as well written; smart and “controversial,” but comparatively, lackluster. It seemed repetitious too, and in many ways predictable, with a final result that was neither unwelcome nor seemingly impactful. The play certainly challenged the social norms of the time, but seemed to be approached without particular risk in the world of the play. While certainly the options for women to hold professions were slim and the luxuries afforded a woman who could claim independence financially were significant, I didn’t feel this play was approached from a passionate point of view. I didn’t feel the sacrifice, the shame, or the pride and confidence that could have and I think should have been present in the play. It was a half argument and felt a bit like half a play.
There is the business of the mother and daughter relationship too which is intertwined with the theme of “women in business” but here’s where I think the source material leaves challenging holes (not entirely surprising given the fact that I often find men’s perception of this unique relationship to be under developed and usually lacking). Without giving away too much, the emotional stakes here could have been a lot higher and not seemed like just a thankless choice and/or business decision. There was some “acting” that is called out in the script by Vivie of her mother and I found that cheapened the sincerity of the rest of the conversation. Indeed, less humor present and the discussion not as polarizing or dramatic as what I would expect from this genre, playwright and theater.
While there were some good individual performances, I wasn’t drawn into the relationships overall. With the exception of Vivie (a solid, likable talent with control of the materials layers of wit and intelligence), Praed (who felt properly discombobulated and socially adrift) and Frank (wonderfully arrogant and wickedly duplicitous), I didn’t feel the rest of the ensemble was totally connected. Chemistry seemed askew in many places and a good portion felt like not everyone was on the same page. Direction, material, acting; a bit of all of it I think contributed to an unbalanced, inconsistent and unfortunately, disappointing production for me.
The normally wonderful lighting and set seemed too simple and non-descript. It didn’t seem to support, add, or give the actors anything substantial to work with. Costumes were lovely though and a thumbs up for that visual which worked well.
This is ultimately a show that started out bold and had some fun moments, but seemed to mostly fizzle out before the end of the second half. With themes and arguments that might just suit the page more than the stage, this production garners 3 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara. Mrs. Warren’s Profession plays through March 6th at the Douglas Morrisson Theatre in Hayward.