There comes a time in every gal's life when she realizes she is no longer crestfallen every time her mother judges her lifestyle. At that point, she becomes aware that what she chooses for herself -- whether it be "good" or "bad" -- is motivated entirely by what she wants for herself, regardless of whether or not it does or does not correspond with her mother's game plan. Before that happens, however, she will spend painful hours on end trying to fit into places she does not belong. She will stand in front of the mirror wondering why she can't "just be happy" like everyone else, because, after all, she is going to the same club and wearing her hair the same way that all "they" are. Then it dawns on her that "they" are really her mother's friends and that all along she has been building a façade of herself in order to please mom. She looks good, but she feels like hell. Consequently, she finds herself trying to fill up that emptiness with socially acceptable forms of debauchery like excessive drinking, working, stimulating, doing, producing, and avoiding intimacy with others.
In "Mrs. Warren's Profession", we witness twenty-something, Vivie Warren (Vivienne Benesch) begin her destined journey of self-discovery by "breaking up" with her mother. Consequently, we are taken through all the pain and pride of another brave soul who decides that she finally is ready to live more than half of a life. While we do not get the opportunity to see our brave protagonist "ten years later" we can only imagine that all the emotional boot camp has paid off.
A recent Cambridge graduate, Vivie is more or less the Ally McBeal of her time (1904), minus the cell phone; yet her fierce intelligence and independence work overtime, resulting in an efficient, yet lonely life, absent of authentic connection to anyone. We can sympathize with the hatred she feels for a glamorous and charming Mommy Dearest (Caitlin O' Connell) who has been too busy cashing in at the European chain of Mc-Brothels ("making up for an impoverished childhood") to ever really get to know her daughter; insomuch it becomes clear that as hard as Vivie works to avoid turning into mom, she is still living out the toxic doctrine of her mother's misery by doing all that running.
As far as the plot goes, all of this comes to a head when the mother and daughter reconvene on some sort of turn-of-the-century holiday setting where tangled relationships, trickery and debauchery ensue. Young Vivie attacks her mother for not being a good mother and mother judges her daughter for being too tomboyish. In the meantime, the supporting cast (small, yet effective in diffusing both the stage space and shuffling around the collective ego) helps us see the complexity of the relationship by playing off one another for better or for worse. While we are fairly confident in our affinity for young Vivie, we are a bit confused when she has a change of heart and forgives dear mumsy for being such a flake; she now accepts all the reasons that lead her to a life of prostitution. But since they kiss and make-up before intermission, we know the honeymoon is doomed.
Like any other Big Chill, Breakfast Club, or reality TV du jour, the play illustrates the inevitable tension created when six-degrees of relations reunite on a Friday; before sundown. Because there's nothing else to do, they warm up by debating current events before moving on to drinking heavily so they can unpack their neurosis and call each other on their shit. Thanks to Shaw, however, the details are worth getting worked up about, not to mention hilariously too close to home. Issues anyone? Identity crises? Greed? Check, mate. It's hard to really like any among this gathering of King Sleazes' earthly pawns, yet the fact that everyone is out for number one somehow becomes endearing. It's kind of like watching a support group for character criminals, each of whom are willing to openly admit their deceptive plans to screw over someone in the next room.
While MWP tackles several themes-mainly its namesake which spawned much controversy about Shaw's take on prostitution and women's rights, where he boldly asked the public, what choices does a woman have in life if she is poor? However, now that all of that is passé and folks can hang out on any old corner they please, its contemporary relevance is found in the moving (and undeniably relate-able) theme between young Vivie and her mother. The powerful depiction of the universal struggle between mother and daughter is what makes seeing this play worthwhile given that we all have one.
In the meantime it is entertaining, physically funny, and a timely reminder that we have choices in life, even though those choices can be difficult. It makes us ask ourselves the more difficult questions. Like: what are we avoiding in our lives by saying, "yes" to that second helping of hotdish, scotch, or that toxic lover? Why we are not enjoying our own lives? How much of it is superfluous after all? Do we really need to instant message?
Like Vivie, most of my friends and I have mother issues; as offspring of divorced mothers of the Boomer generation, we all got the brunt of our maternal birthrights, the scraps of affection leftover from a "difficult childhood." Like Mrs. Warren, our mothers had hard lives and fell into situations that were miserable and chaotic; while our mothers did not resort to prostitution, they found other ways to escape their pain. Consequently, we the daughters were left with life's withered road map whose trail left us repeatedly lost, on the edge of nowhere but Hopesville. While we did realize this wild goose chase to enlightenment was all bells and whistles, we knew the journey had to continue, but on a different course. Consequently, we were labeled "apathetic Gen. X'ers" who weren't doing anything productive with their lives. Like Vivie, we were targeted for being caught between what we were told we should do and what we wanted to do, but getting stuck in the sand trap of our mother's toxic love, which we unfortunately interpreted to be the Big Kahuna.
Minus the metaphor, we knew we had to get over our mothers without expecting she would come around and without betraying ourselves. Of course "knowing" is different than feeling. "In the know" we watched Vivie take her first steps in the process of separating from her mother, yet with each step she takes, we grieve our own losses, like the parts of our mothers that were wonderful. We cheer for her, sure, but we know that giving up one's love for the woman who rented us our womb space is about as easy as convincing ourselves we don't like chocolate. However, every time we witness Vivie jump a hurdle, we cheer. We cheer when she realizes she cannot be with that creep Frank Gardner (Leo Kittay), though we have fallen for his intoxicating charm much the same way she has. We cheer when she delivers a poetic left hook to her mother's partner in crime, the smooth talking Sir George Crofts (Paul O'Brien), who offers to be her personal Daddy Warbucks as long as she doesn't mind being a mantel prop, yet we sympathize with the need and want to be taken care of, especially when we have missed out on much of that crucial birthright. We even cheer her on when she flexes her smarts by triple tasking, though we know our own ADHD is nothing but a tenacious treadmill attempting to latch on to substance in something made of Nutrasweet.
Mrs. Warren's Profession, like other timeless tales that reveal all sides of the human animal, reminds us once again of the power of live theatre. Though MWP (among other Shaw plays) were branded (even self-branded) "unpleasant," in jolly old England, Shaw believed that theatre has a responsibility to encourage its audience to explore the society it has created as well as his or her personal contribution to its lonely decline For most of us, that means looking at what we are willing to sacrifice in order to live life how we choose to. And for those one percent who have fictional relationships with their mothers, it means being a little more understanding to those who did not.
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