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Off Broadway

Mrs. Warren’s Profession Stumbles, Even With the Two Strong Women at its Core

Mrs. Warren’s Profession Stumbles, Even With the Two Strong Women at its Core

The decorative set, courtesy of Brian Prather (Off-Broadway’s Daniel’s Husband) that sits most sweetly inside the Theatre Row theatre is as pretty as a two-toned old photograph. It frames the stage with care, signifying everything that is within this production; lovely, charming, well orchestrated, but a tad artificial and forced. It feels big and expansive, but this Gingold Theatrical Group production turns out to be small and a bit clumsy to navigate, trying so valiantly hard to waltz forward into delight. Somehow, without falling or tripping over its feet, this rendering of Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession never actually finds its way to take off into the stars. Mainly because it never feels real, or very true to its accented heart, just forced and flippant, surprisingly, all at the same time or for no particular reason.

Raphael Nash Thompson, Nicole King, Karen Ziemba, Robert Cuccioli, Alvin Keith, and David Lee Huynh in Gingold’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

The company, a favorite of mine, has gathered together once again to unpack and deliver one of Shaw’s illustrious and provocative plays, much like it did most majestically with the glorious Heartbreak House. That wonderfully fun production, which also starred the illustrious Karen Ziemba (Broadway’s Prince of Broadway, Vineyard’s Kid Victory) and Raphael Nash Thompson (TFANA’s Pericles), radiated out an engaging and fun presence, and, as I wrote in my review back then, it was a “Glorious Humanity of the Theatrical Bomb Shelter“. Unfortunately this time around, in Shaw’s third play of sixty-five, Mrs. Warren’s Profession can’t locate that same spark, nor its connectivity, even with the fine work of lighting designer Jamie Roderick (The Duke’s Emojiland), costume designer Asa Benally (Woolly Mammoth/Folger Shakespeare’s Where We Belong), and a somewhat distracting sound design by Frederick Kennedy (LCT’s audio play The Forbidden City). The attempt, crafted out of a historic piece of playwriting and construction that constructed its characters to step beyond the typical and embrace non-conventional conventions, trips over that very thought, overdoing the dynamic, and pushing the narrative outward far beyond the emotional bonding that is needed or even required. 

Robert Cuccioli and Karen Ziemba in Gingold’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

It is said that Shaw had no interest in examining the life of sex workers when he wrote this play, but used the topical framework of the ‘business of prostitution’ as simply a central plot point in order to examine the radical idea of a woman taking matters into her own hands and building a life of financial independence, not through the use of marriage, but one through her own business and entrepreneurial expertise. The fact that the business was prostitution was just a form of fuel that brought attention to the illuminating fire of an idea that was already monumental and modern. Directed by David Staller (Off-Broadway’s Man and Superman), Shaw’s characters try with all their heart to bring forth that dialogue, but in the end, collide with one another with an inauthentic clang, slinging the well-phrased words out as if they were all in a complete farce where the accents are meant to falter, in and out, sounding both pompous and incongruent, and with the heart of the matter, barely being seen as meaningful. 

Very few of the characters in this classic ‘problem play’ find their authentic and grounded footing in this production. That is for the exception of the always spectacular Ziemba, and the halfway performance of Nicole King (Guthrie’s Steel Magnolias) playing the mother and daughter at the heart of this construct. When together, they find some understanding of this social commentary, illustrating Shaw’s belief that prostitution itself was not caused by the moral failure of these women, but by economic necessity, based solely on the “underpaying, undervaluing and overworking [of] women so shamefully that the poorest of them are forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together.” Without preaching to the choir, these two actors find a connection in their discourse and an understanding and honesty in the text that gives us the truth of the creation. We hear the debate played out before us, feeling for the parallels of these two similar souls as plainly as the play intended.

Nicole King and David Lee Huynh in Gingold’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

The rest of the cast; the strong Robert Cuccioli (Gingold’s Caesar & Cleopatra) as Sir George Crofts; the unconvincing David Lee Huynh (NAATCO’s Henry VI) as the ridiculous Frank Gardner; and the charming Alvin Keith (Huntington’s Sweat) as the over-the-top representation of Praed; do their darndest to find their way, but get muddled in the message. Shaw is said to have enjoyed taking the traditional and stereotypical elements of Victorian playwriting and subverting their clichéd characterizations by giving them the most modern of views, asking them to behave and speak in the most modern of manners. But in this flawed production, the characters almost become the modern equivalent of stereotypes, playing too high and sloppy with their accents and their mannerisms, rarely unpacking the honesty and chemistry required. Miss and Mrs. Warren, and their desired preferred Professions make complete and utter sense, especially when debated between the two. The rest just get in the way, stalling our engagement in this Shaw masterpiece, as it keeps us all at arm’s length from finding joy and enlightenment in their choice of a profession. 

Karen Ziemba and Nicole King in Gingold’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

This limited Off-Broadway engagement at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street, between 9th and Dyer Avenues) will continue through November 20th only.  Opening Night is set for Wednesday, October 27th. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 7pm, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8pm, with matinees Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm.  The performance will run 100 minutes, without an intermission. Tickets for Mrs. Warren’s Profession are $69 (including theater restoration fee) and can be purchased online at https://bfany.org/theatre-row/shows/mrs-warrens-profession/,  by phone at 212/714-2442, ext 2 (Monday – Sunday 12pm – 5pm), or in person at the Theatre Row Box Office Box Office two hours prior to curtain. Additional service fees will apply for online or phone orders.

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Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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