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September 29th, 2010

Mrs. Warren's Profession

We're back in town, for the nonce, and have celebrated by getting a bunch of theatre tickets.  Our first play was George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession, which I must have read years ago, because I read all of Shaw when I was in college, for a course in Anglo-Irish Drama, but remembered nothing about.  Which put me in the lovely position of going to a production of a brand-new classic play.

I knew there was a reason I loved GBS.  When he's on his game, interested in his actual characters and letting his political opinions serve the drama instead of driving it, there's nothing to touch him.  The man was a genuine feminist, too--at least on paper.  I've seldom seen a better--or more nuanced--portrait of the emotional power plays that can exist between mother and daughter, when the mother is possessive and manipulative and self-centered and the daughter has a self, and the strength to protect it.  As Mrs. Warren, the spectacular Cherry Jones (who I would willingly watch read a phone book, if they still existed), was intelligent, strong, needy, brash, funny, monstrous, and utterly believable (once she got her Cockney accent under control).  I'm glad she's back on the stage after her time in the TV mines, because she's a magnificent stage actress, and they don't grow on trees.

I wish the same could be said of Sally Hawkins, who played Mrs. Warren's daughter Vivie.  She was fine when she was just talking, but when she shouted, she got shrill and incomprehensible, which is Death To Shaw.  And she shouted a lot--rather too much, to our taste--though, given how irritating her mother was, one could hardly blame her.  Perhaps it was the direction rather than her acting decision, but it did undermine the emotional pacing of the plot, which is complex and subtle.  The male characters (with the exception of Vivie's young man Frank, who has done of a lot of TV, not so much theatre), were spot-on the Shavian mark--articulate, walking the thin line between caricature and realism with professionalism and aplomb.  The sets were well-dressed in a high Arts & Crafts meets 15th century lodge country house way, and Mrs. Warren's cherry and scarlet and fushcia costumes were, well, striking.  It's a solid production of a play that is very modern in its politics and its characters and its acceptance of the ambiguities of human and family emotions.  A good beginning to our Theatre Season.

And yes, I'm almost back to normal--although the next few days are rather filled with incident.  I do so want to get my New Zealand Report done and dusted, but that's just going to have to happen when it happens.  Perhaps on the train to Tarrytown. . . .


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