Review: Performers Under Stress troupe _ it's Shaw good

Perpetual anticipation, according to Stephen Sondheim, is “good for the soul, but it's bad for the heart.” Regardless of its impact, perpetual anticipation is always with us, unavoidably, especially as you're heading to a show. And so what you expect when attending a production by Performers Under Stress (they use the acronym PUS liberally, proudly even), in a former mini-garage on Howard Street, now called The Garage, a humble venue of 37 folding chairs – well, you'd prognosticate something less than splendid.

Oh, and what's on the playbill? PUS' first outing with G.B. Shaw, from the great playwright's Plays Unpleasant series, the impassioned and hilarious “Mrs. Warren's Profession,” a play which a century ago deeply upset the British censor, most critics, and a good segment of the public with its bold statements about morality, hypocrisy, the exploitation of women.

Here's the good news: Reminiscent of The City's historic small-theater explosion in the 1960s and '70s, Performers Under Stress is overcoming those daunting challenges, and present an inviting, involving production of professional quality.

Company manager Scott Baker directed the play with respect and imagination. Startling as it may be at first to see the commedia dell'arte setting, complete with masks,and (very) large gestures, Baker's concept actually illuminates Shaw: the masks come off when the characters speak their mind, go back on when they lie or pretend (which they do most of the time). In the entire evening, there is only one directorial misstep, ending the play suddenly, instead of playing out Shaw's detailed directions after the last line of dialog.

Regardless of the constraints of size and budget, this is a fine physical production, with clever projections of scene titles and silent-film excerpts, and Valerie Fachman's costumes.

In the title role, costume-designer Fachman gives a formidable performance as the woman who is so good at her profession – the world's oldest – that she could rise from abject poverty to great wealth.

Fachman is letter-perfect through the long, complex speeches Shaw gave to the character; she presents the wide emotional range convincingly, the actress disappearing behind the character, a performance that would be well at home in a theater a hundred times the size of a 37-seat garage.

Katherine Leilani McDowell is Vivie, Mrs. Warren's daughter, raised in luxury by an absent mother, who is busy maximizing her “ill-gotten gains,” and hiding the truth from the strong, righteous-to-a-fault daughter. The young actress is paired with a young actor in the role of Frank Gardner, Vivie's free-thinking, father-despising suitor; Brendan Scoggin does justice to the role, which represents Shaw's own straight-talking, fearless ways.

Dale Tagtmeyer is the nasty Sir George Crofts, a symbol of everything that's wrong with capitalism (and middle age); George Epsilanty is the effusive, very funny Mr. Praed; and Brandon Long is the Rev. Samuel Gardner.


Mrs. Warren’s Profession

Presented by Performers Under Stress

Where: 975 Howard St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays; closes Nov. 11

Tickets $10 to $20

Contact: (415) 948-5637 or

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

Construction in the Better Market Street Project between Fifth and Eighth streets is expected to break ground in mid-2021.<ins></ins>
SFMTA board to vote on Better Market Street changes

Agency seeks to make up for slimmed-down plan with traffic safety improvements

U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks during an event to name President-elect Joe Biden’s economic team at the Queen Theater on Dec. 1, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)
Kamala Harris to resign from Senate

Bridget Bowman CQ-Roll Call Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will resign from the… Continue reading

A view of Science Hall at the City College of San Francisco Ocean campus on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
CCSF begins search for next chancellor amid new challenges

‘It’s arguably the biggest single responsibility the board has,’ trustee says

Some people are concerned that University of California, San Francisco’s expansion at its Parnassus campus could cause an undesirable increase in the number of riders on Muni’s N-Judah line.<ins></ins>
Will UCSF’s $20 million pledge to SFMTA offset traffic woes?

An even more crowded N-Judah plus increased congestion ahead cause concern

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) speaks during her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Pelosi called for the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump a day after his supporters stormed the Capitol. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
Feds seeking woman whose ex says she stole Nancy Pelosi’s laptop during Capitol riot

Jeremy Roebuck The Philadelphia Inquirer Federal authorities have obtained an arrest warrant… Continue reading

Most Read