Reviewed by Judy Richter
Director Timothy Near symbolically sets up the contrast between the two lead characters from the very start of California Shakespeare Theater's production of George Bernard Shaw's "Mrs. Warren's Profession." In a silent scene created by Near, Stacy Ross as Mrs. Kitty Warren walks slowly downstage wearing a lacy camisole. When she nears the edge of the stage, two women dressed as maids help her get dressed, starting with a corset, continuing with a lovely green outfit (costumes by Meg Neville) and ending with an elaborate hat. In the meantime, Anna Bullard as her daughter, Vivie, enters fully dressed and stays more upstage. While her mother is dressing, Vivie unbuttons her modest blouse, removes her shoes and corset and puts her blouse on again before sitting down to read. Thus Vivie is seen as the more "modern" woman while her mother adheres to Victorian fashion in this 1894 play.
Although Kitty is the title character, the play is more about Vivie and her reaction to revelations from and about her mother. Vivie is a recent university graduate who excelled in mathematics and who has a job as an actuary. She and her mother have had little contact, but her mother has provided generously for her and paid all of her expenses, including her education.
At the end of the first act, Kitty tells her life story, describing her impoverished childhood and the limited opportunities for improving her lot. She seemed to have only two choices, either a dangerous, low-paying factory job or prostitution. She chose the latter and prospered, eventually going into business as a madam and treating her girls well, she says. As she tells this story, her upper-class accent becomes more like Cockney. Vivie reacts positively to this story and affectionately embraces her mother.
Vivie's reaction totally changes in the second act when Sir George Crofts (Andy Murray), Kitty's friend and business partner, reveals that although she's no longer a prostitute herself, the two of them own and operate an international chain of brothels that front as hotels. Vivie is disgusted and renounces her mother, her mother's financial support and the possibility of marriage. She'll support herself.
Bullard is brilliant as Vivie, but Ross seems a bit young for the role of Mrs. Warren, gray-streaked wig notwithstanding. Murray is suitably pompous and borderline coarse as Sir George. Richard Thieriot plays Frank Gardner, the handsome, charming, lazy young man who courts Vivie. Rod Gnapp portrays his father, the Rev. Samuel Gardner, one of Kitty's former lovers. Completing the cast is Dan Hiatt as Mr. Praed, an architect and friend of Kitty.
Erik Flatmo's set, with its huge, colorful flowers on the walls and floor, seems a bit garish. York Kennedy's lighting is effective for the most part, even when Bay Area fog threatens to envelop the outdoor stage. Jeff Mockus' sound design, featuring birds as the audience arrived at twilight, blended in well with the actual sound of birds.
Although some of Near's interjected scenes, such as Frank's efforts to seduce Kitty, don't quite work, the overall production is impressive, especially the scenes between Ross and Bullard.