Mrs Warren’s Profession

“La Profession de Madame Warren,” Paris 2004.

“A satirical comedy denouncing the hypocrisy of late Victorian Britain, more relevant than ever in our era of increasing economic inequality and emphasis on appearances. After years at boarding school, Vivie is finally facing real life. She begins by meeting her mother, whom she hardly knows, the redoubtable Mrs. Warren. The two women, diametrically opposed, learn about each other, a process not without bruises. Two visions of the world clash: Vivie, a young, modern woman, a feminist before her time, demands a certain equality of the sexes and seeks independence by earning a living. To secure a place in Victorian society, Mrs. Warren, an upscale madam, has had to open houses of ill repute across Europe..”

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André Gide – Journal 1012 (John Simon – The Hudson Review – Theatre Chronicle – 1976)

“… in Mrs Warren’s Profession the theme was muckraking: Vivie Warren, fresh out of Cambridge, learns that her impoverished, abused mother had been driven into prostitution, whence she worked her way up to becoming co-owner of an international chain of brothels. Vivie can forgive her mother’s becoming a prostitute but not her turning capitalist exploiter of other prostitutes. So disgusted is Vivie by a world in which one or another kind of mass enslavement is the basis for the well being of the privileged few that she renounces men, marriage, and her mother and chooses to become first an actuary and eventually a lawyer, to immerse herself in honest and humanitarian work.”

The Bordello Business

Perhaps a contemporary Vivie would admire Mrs. Warren’s entrepreneurial talents more than did the socialist Shaw’s character a century ago. Far from picture windows with the wares displayed leaving little to the imagination, Mrs. Warren’s establishments were maisons closes, legal brothels of the 19th and early twentieth century where dalliance included as much music and dance as sex. Want to peek inside? Watch House of Tolerance, a Bertrand Bonello film at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Or, when next in Paris, visit the Museum of Eroticism (Musée de l’érotisme), a museum devoted to erotic art (72 Boulevard de Clichy, Pigalle). One floor is devoted to maisons closes.

The Pink Guide (Guide rose) of 1936, marketed by “Psst! Hey, Mister, you wan’ …?” contained 700 addresses of such establishments. In 19th century France the authorities issued « certificats de tolérance » to these establishments. Mrs. Warren seized a business opportunity because men were not permitted to manage them. Advertising: since medieval times a red light signaled their presence.

The French closed these maisons closes in 1946 – which increased demand in Belgium. Their legality these days only in northern Europe and, surprisingly, Switzerland makes one wonder whether any would be of interest to the Museum of Eroticism.

Actors: Catherine Domareki, Ethan Alrushe, Mary Scripps, Mathew Winston, Don Loeb.

Lights & Sound: Our wonderful and regretted Brad “Bear” Ingalls.