While on vacation last week, PJ and I saw two plays at the Shaw Theatre Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The Shaw Festival started in 1962 and is dedicated to staging the works of Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) and his contemporaries.

American audiences are probably most familiar with Shaw’s Pygmalion, since it was the basis of the musical My Fair Lady. (I read the play in high school.) But Shaw wrote a large number of plays, many of which are still part of the repertoire, including Man and Superman (1903), Major Barbara (1905), and Saint Joan (1923).

Neither PJ nor I have ever enjoyed Shaw’s plays all that much, so we didn’t have the highest expectations. We were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed Niagara-on-the-Lake and the two plays we saw at the festival.

The first play we saw was Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession. The play centers on Vivie, played by Moya O’Connell. Vivie is a rather prudish, mannish kind of young woman who intends to become an actuary now that she has graduated from Cambridge. As the play begins, Vivie is joined in the country by her mother’s friend, Praed, played by David Jansen, and eventually by her mother, Mrs. Warren, played by Mary Haney. Over the first two acts, Vivie learns that her mother has supported her through prostitution (Vivie has been raised by surrogates while Mrs. Warren has lived on the continent). After hearing her mother describe her early life in poverty, Vivie initially forgives her for her choices, but when she learns in Act 3 that her mother’s extremely profitable business is still in operation (Mrs. Warren now serves as CEO of the company), she decides to repudiate her and swears never to see her again. In the meantime, other revelations about Mrs. Warren’s past doom Vivie’s relationship with her young man, Frank, played by Andrew Bunker.