BANNED AND BEAUTIFUL
Veteran character actors know how to chew up the scenery
Veteran character actors know how to chew up the scenery, says Guardian reviewer
When the great playwright George Bernard Shaw first wrote “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” in 1893, The Lord Chamberlain’s Examiner declared the play “immoral and otherwise improper for the stage,” and it was banned from performance in England.
When mounted in New Haven, Conn., in 1905, the opening-night audience gave rapturous applause, but the next night the police burst into the theatre and arrested the entire cast. Now that’s what I call theatre. So what exactly is this profession Mrs. Warren dabbles in that created all the fuss? And was it really her profession that offended or the fact that Shaw did not condemn her for it? You’ll have to see this play to find out.
Suffice it to say that when you’re in the hands of Shaw, you can be sure the writing will be rich with ideas and dramatically accomplished. The play explores the effects of economic disparity on women, the relationship between a mother and daughter at a moment of cataclysm, human hypocrisy and more broad philosophical issues which can hardly be done justice in a review of 600 words. But director Robert Tsonos shows such delicate finesse in bringing this play to life that it is likely the most satisfying piece of theatre I’ve seen on Prince Edward Island.
The world unfolds as costume designer Bonnie Deakin’s impeccably dressed actors enter onto William Layton’s simple and elegant set, lit by Renée Brode with touches of speckled turquoise light. The design and technical details in this production are a lesson in how to do something quite arresting, with virtually nothing. And that is
quite an accomplishment.
The Mrs. Warren of the title has made a good deal of money, some of which she has used to educate her daughter, Vivie, who has just graduated from university and is spending time with her mother and a small cast of characters. Secrets are revealed that drive this story to
a conclusion rich with ambiguity.
Leah Pritchard, as daughter Vivie, proves with this strong and nuanced performance that she has the tenacity to take the stage. She is assisted and supported in that difficult role by Jordan Campbell, who has an effectively playful quality as
Frank Gardner, the boy who’s a little in love with Vivie, and a lot in love with her money.
No less vital to the success of this production are four veteran character actors who know how to chew up the scenery: Ian Deakin as Sir George Crofts, Mrs. Warren’s business associate, is deliciously
lascivious; Paul Whelan brings a charm and realism to Reverend Samuel Gardner (a role that in less accomplished hands could be a caricature); Jerry Getty has some effective moments as Praed, but the performance is still a little on the surface; and Gracie Finley finds the vulnerability, the steel and the mother in Mrs. Warren. But there’s something there still to be discovered. And it’s a vital part of the whole equation.
Tsonos creates stage pictures that help illuminate the mysterious grace that underlies these lives — watch what happens in the light, but also pay heed to the semi-dark in between scenes as ghostly vignettes materialize, shift and then disappear forever. Just like in real life.
The final beautiful image of Vivie sitting alone on stage in a little chair, under a muted yellow light, struggling with the monumental decision she has just made, is one of those moments in which the illusion on stage transmutes momentarily into a shimmering, albeit brief, reality; a reality that then takes hold of you and remains with you as you leave the theatre.
With a script as good as this, these performances will only deepen. Highly recommended.
Colm Magner, who is a member of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association, has worked as a playwright, actor, director and teacher for more than 30 years. His column, In the Wings, will appear regularly during the summer. To reach Colm, email firstname.lastname@example.org or find him at Twitter.com/IntheWings61.
Gracie Finlay is shown in a scene from “Mrs. Warren’s Profession”, playing at The Watermark Theatre in North Rustico until Aug. 25.