George Bernard Shaw will be remembered as one of the greatest playwrights in history, perhaps second only to Shakespeare in the pantheon of literary luminaries in the English-speaking world. His plot structures were elegant, his character development exemplary, his language and style peerless. But most of all, he will be remembered for his acerbic wit, his contempt for the cant and hypocrisy that permeates society, and his attacks on religion, sexual mores, and the capitalist system – all of which ideas found their way into his plays. Mrs. Warren’s Profession, one of his most controversial plays, exemplifies all of that – which explains why it was banned in England for a decade before it was allowed to be produced in a members-only club in London and why it had to withstand continuing legal challenges to its production both in England and the United States for years after that.
Compassion Theater Company, founded just two years ago, deserves credit for attempting an Off Off Broadway production of this multi-layered and highly nuanced play dealing with inter-generational strife, conventional social mores, the capitalist economic system, class and marital relationships, prostitution, possible incest and, not least of all, early examples of feminist sentiments. But while the company deserves credit for its ambitious efforts, the realizations of those efforts left much to be desired and this production was ultimately disappointing.
For one thing, at least two of the actors were badly miscast. Vincent Petrosini, who played the role of the Reverend Sam Gardner, appeared to be no older than Alexander Harvey, who played the role of his son Frank – an off-putting situation at best. And Carina Moses, who not only produced the play but starred in the role of Mrs. Warren’s daughter, Vivie, came across as much too soft and tentative a personality in a role that bespoke a harder, tougher, grittier woman. Beth Adler as Mrs.Warren and Dave T. Koenig as Sir George Crofts played their roles adequately and Franco Pastritto did bring some style to his role as Praed. But the one standout in the cast was Alexander Harvey who played his role with considerable flair and whose eerie resemblance to Alan Cumming lent a mildly diabolical aura to his persona.
The lighting, set design and direction also were badly flawed. Understandably, Off Off Broadway theatre groups don’t have resources sufficient to build extravagant sets, but that doesn’t mean that the minimal sets that do produce must be as pedestrian and dreary as this one was. The director’s conceit in having Mrs. Warren traipse off the stage and around the theater’s aisles just didn’t work – other than to induce some sprained necks among audience members. And the lighting came across as just plain haphazard.
In sum, the company deserves an A for effort but its reach really did exceed its grasp. Perhaps this is just too difficult and complex a play for a troupe with that short a history.