Alley Theatre’s production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession has been a long time coming. And yes, the wait was worth it.
You know that problematic stretch of Hastings between Downtown and Strathcona? Someone was brave enough to mount a play in the thick of it all. Walking to the skytrain after the show, I was heckled left and right, giving all the more prominence to the themes of this production.
A primer on the play, if you’re not familiar:
Written in 1893 by Nobel Prize and Oscar-winning writer George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Warren’s Profession was originally banned from production because of its controversial discussion of prostitution and frank indictment of gender inequality… [W]hen the highly-educated and thoroughly ‘modern’ young Vivie learns of her mother’s profession, the two women enter a battle-royal over what it means to be a modern woman, a working woman, and to just plain be a woman.
Or is it? Mrs. Warren’s asks if attitudes towards sex workers has really shifted over a century later. Staging this play in the Rickshaw Theatre lets us confront the situation head-on without the safety of distance.
The play’s modernized script turns the focus away from the ‘historical’ and into the now. Don’t expect classical theatre with this work; the shift makes it approachable to theatre-goers from all sides of the spectrum. Here’s appropriation and modernization done right, curated in a way that delicately balances Shaw’s source material and our troubled relationship with the Downtown Eastside.
Social commentary aside, Mrs. Warren just works. The chemistry between mother and daughter is the foundation of this play, and both Linda Quibell and Melissa Oei maintain a fine give and take without overpowering one another. The rest of the cast (suitors of both women, with some eyebrow-raising overlap) all demonstrate enough nuances that turn them into believable characters. I wanted more ‘brute’ out of Eric Keenleyside in the role of Crofts. After the zillionth time Crofts was called out for being brutish by everyone else, I needed to see it more in order to believe it.
The staging of this play kept the audience both guessing and entertained. Utilizing the cavernous space of the Rickshaw, everyone changed seats and perspectives four seperate times (count ’em). While I was hesitant in the beginning (the first seat felt a little unnecessary), by the end I was a fan of this unconventional way of quick and painless set changes.
There are two reasons why you need to see Mrs. Warren’s Profession. The first is for its uniquely Vancouver-ish social commentary on ‘modern working women’ in the DTES. The second, and more importantly, is that it stands on its own as a production. Go see it while you can – the show must close this weekend.
Mrs. Warren’s Profession plays at The Rickshaw Theatre until April 27. Advance tickets here.