Nowadays the very nature of “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” might have gotten her a reality show, but in 1893 censors banned George Bernard Shaw’s play about a brothel proprietress — not for salacious content (it has none), but because of the even more dangerous social hypocrisies it exposed. Among its many strengths the Antaeus Company’s superb revival illuminates what continues to shock most about the piece, namely, how little has really changed.
In the title role, Anne Gee Byrd anchors the otherwise double-cast production with a steely portrayal that is every inch Shaw’s envisioned “genial and fairly presentable old blackguard of a woman.” Her present wealth and success notwithstanding, Kitty Warren’s inflections and bearing betray the dead-end lower class origins she’s risen above.
When her college-graduate daughter Vivie (Rebecca Mozo, alternating with Linda Park) discovers the carefully hidden source of income that paid for her education and genteel upbringing, Byrd’s Kitty lays out the economic realities that limit women’s survival options in a mercilessly incisive monologue.
With admirable precision, clarity and comic timing director Robin Larsen and her entire cast honor Shaw’s meticulous balancing of opposing ideas and philosophies; the arguments are cogent and the jokes are funny.