GTG’s stellar Off-Broadway production of ‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession’ remains sorely relevant today

In 2021, data shows that women across the US are still making only 82 cents on the dollar for what men make. What that means in effect is that US women stop getting paid on October 29 of this year, due to the national pay gap of 18%. In 1893, trailblazing playwright George Bernard Shaw addressed similar concerns in the English Victorian era with his provocative work Mrs. Warren’s Profession, now seen in a stellar limited engagement at Theatre Row by Gingold Theatrical Group (GTG). The relevant production proves once again that classics are classic for a reason.

Karen Ziemba and Nicole King. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

When it made its debut in NYC in 1905, the production was interrupted on opening night by the police, who arrested the cast and crew for violation of obscenity laws (the court later ruled against the arrests). The controversy came from Shaw’s central theme of prostitution, which is not intended to titillate, but to consider the socio-economic circumstances and gender-based inequities that have led women down that path, through smart, frank, and witty discussions by the story’s at-odds characters.

A recent graduate of Cambridge University with a degree in mathematics, Vivie Warren is a strong, intelligent, no-nonsense ‘thoroughly modern’ woman, devoted to her work, reading, and maintaining her independence, despite the interest of an array of men in making her their wife. When she learns during a visit from her long-absent mother Kitty (who is well known to the men) that her privileged life and college tuition were funded by the wealthy, powerful, and never-married ‘Mrs.’ Warren’s previously undisclosed profession – first as a prostitute, then as the madame of a chain of upper-class European brothels – their attitudes clash and hopes for a relationship crash as they profess their irreconcilable differences on the divisive matter.

Directed by GTG founding artistic director David Staller with an astute balance of comedy and weightiness, the outstanding cast of six masterfully embodies the characters’ personalities and positions in a proto-feminist theatrical debate over the ethics, duplicity, and hypocrisy of a traditional male-dominated capitalist society in which disenfranchised women have no legal rights and few options to better themselves, other than through marriage or sexual exploitation. As the story progresses, the figures come to reveal their backgrounds and interconnections, while raising issues of self-respect, pride, and shame, and Vivie becomes increasingly resolute in her determination to remain single, industrious, and self-sufficient.

Raphael Nash Thompson, Nicole King, Karen Ziemba, Robert Cuccioli, Alvin Keith, and David Lee Huynh. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Nicole King leads the cast in a superb Off-Broadway debut as the no-nonsense Vivie, delivering her educated British accent, incisive judgments, and self-assured strength (her overly firm handshake is a running gag throughout the show) with credibility and conviction. In the eponymous role of Mrs. Warren, Tony winner Karen Ziemba is outgoing, exuberant, and boisterously unapologetic, as she flirts with the men and justifies her scandalous profession with stories of her background of poverty, the lifestyle she has since been able to enjoy with the monied elite, and the advantages she provided her daughter, with whom she hopes to reunite – if only for the selfish motive of being cared for by Viv in her later years.

The supporting actors turn in equally engaging and amusing performances. Alvin Keith is appropriately well-mannered and preening as the culture-loving dandy Praed, but perhaps also disingenuous in his purported lack of awareness of Mrs. Warren’s business. David Lee Huynh as Vivie’s specious young suitor Frank Gardner rakishly represents Shaw’s gender-reversed role of a male gold-digger, who spent all the money given to him by his father, the Reverend Samuel Gardner, and is intent on consummating a profitable union. Portrayed by Raphael Nash Thompson, the less-than-pious Reverend has some well-kept secrets of his own, which could bring an unexpected end to his son’s plans. And the always excellent Robert Cuccioli appears as the rich and entitled aristocrat Sir George Crofts – Mrs. Warren’s business partner and former lover, who, though twice her age, also has his eyes set on marrying Vivie, and asserts that not money, but the “lack of money is the root of all evil.” Well, not so much in his case.

Robert Cuccioli, Alvin Keith, and Karen Ziemba. Photo by Carol-Rosegg.

Brian Prather’s set captures the beautiful ambiance of Vivie’s upscale garden, with classical busts and shelves filled with the books she loves encompassed by natural growth. Jamie Roderick’s shifts in lighting and Frederick Kennedy’s sound design of vintage music, chirping birds, and an approaching thunderstorm effectively contribute to the mood and themes of the play, and the characters are visually defined by neutral-toned period-style costumes by Asa Benally, with the exception of the flamboyant Mrs. Warren – the only one who tellingly sports touches of red.

With its entertaining and enlightening production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession, GTG reaffirms its status as NYC’s foremost purveyor of the works of George Bernard Shaw and his ever-pertinent humanitarian ideals.

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 40 minutes, without intermission.

Mrs. Warren’s Profession plays through Saturday, November 20, at the Gingold Theatrical Group, performing at Theatre Row, Stage Two, 410 West 42nd Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $73, including a $6.50 service charge), go online. Proof of vaccination (the Excelsior Pass, the NYC COVID Safe Pass, a CDC vaccination card, and/or an official immunization record from outside the United States) are required for entry into the theater and masks must be worn in Theatre Row at all times.

The show will be supplemented by A Scintillating Shaw Party – a free companion event to be held on Monday, November 15, beginning at 7 pm, at Symphony Space, 95th Street and Broadway, NYC, with an international team of actors, directors, scholars, and historians exploring the issues addressed in the play and how they relate to our lives in the present. Tickets for the one-night-only special event are free; reservations and proof of vaccination are required.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here