With fantastic acting and brilliant stagecraft, the School of the Arts' production of "Mrs. Warren's Profession" paints a hard-hitting and intense picture of prostitution as a way of life.
The play, written by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, centers around Kitty Warren, a prostitute who uses her wages to pay for her daughter Vivie's Cambridge education. Vivie, however, becomes increasingly horrified as she uncovers her mother's past and struggles to accept Mrs. Warren in spite of her scandalous profession.
Even though Shaw is careful never to explicitly state what this "profession" is, the 1894 play was banned for years in both England and the U.S. In fact, the first American production of the play was shut down and the cast members arrested.
Shaw takes on prostitution from a revolutionary angle. Rather than justifying or condemning the practice, he condemns a society where women are driven to such extremes. At one point Mrs. Warren states, "It can't be right that there aren't better opportunities out there."
Director Melanie Blood, professor and associate dean of the School of the Arts, decided to set the play just after World War II to make the costume cues and references more accessible to a college audience, though the script remains unchanged and the era is still early enough that prostitution is an uncomfortable subject.
The actors play their parts with brilliant intensity. Senior Mary Elisabeth Kimbark is riveting as Mrs. Warren, and senior Sean Miller is an absolute delight to watch in the playful, high-energy role of Frank Gardner, stealing every scene with his physical comedy and charm. Each cast member displays a fantastic range of emotion, and the lines seem effortless and natural.
The tech crew is fantastic as well. In the first scene, amber lighting accompanied by matching costumes and set pieces shroud the stage and its actors in a fantastic sepia tone that mimics an old television running cheerful post-World War II propaganda.
As the play progresses, a subtle change in these elements creates an increasingly cold and gray setting to mirror Vivie's transition from a playful young girl to a no-nonsense businesswoman. The floor of the theater was even repainted so that different colors would be picked up by changes in lighting.
Scene transitions are done quickly and smoothly thanks to an efficient cast and crew, though some of the larger set pieces block crucial sightlines in the black box-style theater, which may frustrate viewers unable to get good seats. Actors also play to all sides, which means some crucial facial expressions will be missed by parts of the audience.
Even so, the play is incredibly absorbing as well as relevant and comprehensible to a modern-day audience. It holds all the fascination of a car crash; the play isn't a happy one, and though you may not like what you see, you won't be able to look away.
Tickets for "Mrs. Warren's Profession" are on sale in the Brodie Box Office for $7, with the show running from Sept. 29 to Oct. 31 in the Robert Sinclair Theater. All shows start at 8 p.m. with the exception of a 2 p.m. performance on Sundays.