Monday, November 15, 2021

Mrs. Warren Redux

Tonight, I participated in a lively panel discussion about the play Mrs. Warren's Profession hosted by Gingold Theatrical Group, the company currently producing the show off-Broadway on Theatre Row.

Bernard Shaw wrote the play back in 1893, but it was immediately banned in Britain and did not receive any production until 1902, when the Stage Society presented a private performance for one day only. Audience members had to nominally join a special club in order to evade censorship rules.

A production three years later in New York City resulted in the entire cast getting arrested. Shaw kept trying to get the play produced in London, periodically resubmitting it to the censor's office. Critics attacked the piece for its frank discussion of prostitution, but Shaw knew that wasn't the real reason they hated it. He wrote in 1917:

I greatly doubt whether it will ever be licensed in this country, because it has against it the huge commercial interests in prostitution.... I think a really good performance of Mrs. Warren's Profession would keep its audience out of the hands of the women of the street for a fortnight at least. And that is precisely why it encounters an opposition unknown in the case of plays which stimulate the sex illusion.

Well, it wasn't literally the commercial interests in sex work that kept the play banned, but Mrs. Warren's Profession does expose how the entire capitalist system reduces human beings to the lowest states of degradation. Because of the play's history of censorship, tonight panel included Christopher Finan, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. He warned that censorship is increasing in the United States, in spite of a recent Supreme Court decision.

Other panelists included Stephen Brown-Fried, who directed a wonderful production of Shaw's Misalliance at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Ellen Dolgin of the International Shaw Society, esteemed Shaw critic Martin Meisel, lawyer Ethan E. Litwin, Liam Prendergast, who assistant directed GTG's production of Caesar and Cleopatra, and Sarah Rose Kearns, who penned the adaptation of Persuasion recently staged by Bedlam. David Staller, who directed the current production of Mrs. Warren's Profession, moderated.

It was great to be in such distinguished company discussing such a fascinating play. If you haven't seen it yet, the production is still running until November 20th. GTG will also be doing a one-night-only staging of Shaw's delightful comedy Village Wooing on December 13th, with Maryann Plunkett and Jay O. Sanders.