Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review: (Toronto) Mrs. Warren's Profession

                                                                                     Photo by Artjom Gilz
Is the Lady a Tramp?
by Lucy Wells

Sterling Studio Theatre is presenting one of the lesser-known plays of George Bernard Shaw, Mrs Warren’s Profession. This four-act play runs about two hours in the company’s very intimate and informal theatre on (surprise!) Sterling Road. The setting is laid back, with front of house staff serving concessions in a cozy lobby filled with odds and ends; the theatre itself is an oblong room with a collection of risers forming a simple, multi-level set fronting a longer brick wall; mismatched chairs and benches form two rows of seating opposite. This arrangement blurs the lines between actors and audience when the action spreads across the stage. Impossible to track everything without turning back and forth between actors, it’s an interesting way of eliciting a physical response from an audience, and one of the reasons why I enjoy shows in non-traditional theatres.

As the audience entered, the stage was set with Vivie Warren (Caroline Millen)  reclined on a blanket reading; after a while, the lights dimmed and we were treated to this unusual and intense play. Millen does an excellent job of playing the businesslike and unconventional daughter, and particularly shines in her scenes alone with Mrs. Warren (the masterful Deborah Tennant).  The two actors are clearly a great match on the stage, and fed off each other, especially in their final scene.  

The entire cast was worth watching: Richard Beaune was a slimy, unlikeable Crofts, and believable in his assertions that his business was as good as any other.  Malcolm Taylor was rather over-the-top but likeable as the naïve Praed.  David Frish sold his role as the reformed gallant, the Reverend Gardner.  Aris Tyros played Gardner’s son, Frank, with an unsettling mix of opportunism, naïvete, and pre-Raphaelite good looks; he deserves a special mention for delivering some lines that sound like they could have been written for Bertie Wooster without resorting to camp.

The cast was costumed in a way that hinted at earlier 20th-century styles, and this was mostly effective. Crofts, however, was dressed in poorly-tailored black tie (in the daytime, even!) with visible sport socks. For a man who is supposedly adept at fitting into society, and a member of the upper ranks, at that, this is an odd sartorial choice and takes away from the general effect.

The lighting design was simple but effective, and the scene changes were well-choreographed in this space without a curtain. There were some issues with volume: the cast often over-projected for the space, and ordinary scenes occasionally veered toward the shout-y.  Dialing down the volume would help to reinforce the intimate feeling of the staging. Part of this might be that the play was acted to a higher emotional level than I’m used to seeing with Shaw: the characters as directed by Robert Tsonos (capably stage managed by Tamara Vuckovic) wear their hearts on their sleeves in a way I didn’t quite expect, but enjoyed nevertheless.

All in all, it’s a well-acted, well-considered production in an interesting, unconventional space, and definitely worth seeing.

Feb. 18 - Mar. 1
Read also a first-person piece by the work's director, Robert Tsonos

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