2008-2009 Season Preview: Mrs. Warren’s Profession
Posted by Erin Breznitsky on July 24th, 2008
|Lynn Redgrave, Ruth Gordon, and Milo O’Shea in the original Broadway production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession, photo by Sy Friedman|
For our third show of 2008-2009, McCarter offers up a comedy with quite a controversial history: George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession. What’s so scandalous about a play written way back in 1894 by the same playwright who gave us Pygmalion?
For starters, the “profession” in the play’s title is one that was—and is—rarely discussed, especially so openly onstage. Think a certain recent high-profile resignation of a certain high-profile governor, and you’ll get an indication of how Mrs. Warren earns her living.
So as you can imagine, Mrs. Warren’s Profession caused quite a stir when it was first published in the U.K. in 1898, getting banned from public performance for over 25 years. The play was denounced as immoral, corrupt, indecent, revolting, and degenerate. (My kind of theater!) While most of the criticism arose because the play was perceived as glorifying prostitution, it’s more likely that the play struck a chord because it held up a mirror to the society of the day. Shaw did not condemn the prostitutes themselves but rather held the British public accountable for creating an economic and social culture that compelled these women to become prostitutes. By forcing everyday people to face such an “unpleasant” subject, Shaw created a piece of theater that inevitably ruffled some feathers.
The play faced similar obstacles in the U.S. The first North American production premiered in New Haven, CT, on October 27, 1905, but after just one performance, the town’s mayor was so offended that he shut down the production and revoked the theatre’s license.
Nevertheless, the play’s director/producer, Arnold Daly, was determined to bring the show to New York. Three days after its failed run in New Haven, Mrs. Warren’s Profession opened at the Garrick Theatre to a sold-out house. Alas, New York’s mayor shared the same sentiments as the mayor of New Haven. Not only did he shut down the production, but he also had the entire cast and crew arrested, on charges of “offending public decency.” The charges were eventually dropped…on everyone except the house manager. (Watch out, Pam!) (more…)