With its socialist yoking of sex and commerce and marriage and whoredom, Mrs. Warren's Profession, George Bernard Shaw's 1893 play, was quite the shocker in its day. Banned in England at the end of the 19th century, a New York production's cast and crew were arrested in 1905 and it was again banned -- as late as 1955 -- in Paris as well.
In modern times, when nothing is risqué, least of all ideas, the play's radicalism is tricky to tap. Timothy Near's room-temperature revival of the play, for The California Shakespeare Festival, does little to generate the excitement of Shaw's daring ideas.
The play begins with the putting on of layers and layers of feminine undergarments -- to the forlorn strains of Sinead O'Connor's "Factory Girl". It's a perfect selection that suggests a new approach to a period melodrama. O'Connor sings, "I've gold in my pocket and silver as well/No more will I answer that factory call." The stoic resignation in her voice brings a fresh resonance to the plight of women of meager means and scant choices.
Rather than setting the tone for a tale that will mirror the lyrics, the song kinda outshines it.
While there's some intrigue beneath the layers of Victorian frockery and the performances are mostly competent, this new production hardly socks it to us the way any show about sex and money ought to.