Mrs. Warren Speaks on the World’s Oldest Profession

The cast of Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Photo by Holly Abel.

When I was asked to write a blog about what drew me to initiate a reading of Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession for the 2012 Summer ClassicsFest, my mind immediately went back to February of this year, when I had the challenge of playing Mu Sochua, Cambodian human rights activist in a documentary play called Seven at USC.  Sochua, who has labored tirelessly on behalf of Cambodian women and children forced into prostitution by human traffickers, has frequently spoken out about the tragic plight of these innocents, who are often kidnapped into slavery, or else lured by traffickers who promise them jobs to help their poverty-stricken families.

Of course, the horror, abuse, and deadening of the soul that Sochua details when she speaks of these victims are almost too horrible to imagine.  Bur Shaw, when he wrote Mrs. Warren’s Profession over a century ago, seemed determined to try to make Victorian society imagine the similar circumstances of young women of that time.  Shaw’s play was scandalous when it first appeared on the scene.  It was originally banned by the Lord Chamberlain in Britain, and a few years later, an American performance in New York was halted by the police, who arrested the cast and crew.  Moralists were outraged that Shaw would even attempt to take a sympathetic stand toward prostitutes, and the desperation that forced many into employment by the brothels.  But Shaw argued back that “the world’s oldest profession” was, for many desolate young women, the only means available by which they could try to raise themselves above their destitute childhoods.

Director Cameron Watson leads the discussion. Photo by Holly Abel.

Mrs. Warren’s Profession is not only an argument for societal compassion, it is also a study of societal forces vs. personal character and individual choice. Kitty Warren insists she is justified in her choice of livelihood because for her, there is no other viable means by which she could have escaped her poverty.  We see that Kitty has not only escaped, however, but flourished handsomely.  Due to her “success,” she has raised her daughter Vivie in more than comfortable means—yet she has been an absent mother, painfully and inexplicably distant from Vivie’s life, instead throwing her time and energy into her secret profession for her own pleasure at best, and from her own desperate ambition at worst.  And so the question arises:  At what point does Kitty cross over from the motive of rescuing herself and her daughter from poverty and providing a better life for them both, to the moral corruption in maintaining a “success” that ultimately rests on the continued exploitation of others?

Jeanne Sakata w/ Laura Wernette in Merry Wives, CF 2010. Photo by E. Marlow.

Such complex questions—as well as the gut-wrenching struggles of a mother and daughter who, though they wish to love each other, may be separated by a chasm too wide to breach— are the fascinating qualities that drew me to initiate this reading of Mrs. Warren’s Profession in our Summer ClassicsFest.  We hope you will enjoy the challenge of wrestling with this brave and brilliant play, alongside all of us at Antaeus.

Antaeus member Jeanne Sakata on initiating and starring in G.B. Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession, the next offering in ClassicsFest 2012: Part Two. Make your reservations at http://www.antaeus.org.  Suggested donation $10.

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1 Comment

  1. […] is thrilled to be playing the title role in George Bernard Shaw’s MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION in the Antaeus Company’s summer CLASSICS FEST 2012, directed by Cameron Watson. By admin on 3rd […]


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