Most directors would have their hands full with one great play on their schedule. Michael Michetti is currently juggling three hot shows, as he prepares to launch a production at each of Pasadena’s three major theaters.
Saturday marks the opening night of his take on the classic George Bernard Shaw play “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” which will run through Nov. 18 at A Noise Within.
On Nov. 8, he’ll shift gears with the “future history” “King Charles III” at the Pasadena Playhouse, imagining what might happen when Prince Charles finally gets his chance at taking on the British throne.
And in January, he’ll put an unforgettable twist on “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Boston Court Theatre when he keeps its central character, Blanche DuBois, in the 1940s but surrounds her with a modern-day cast of multicultural supporting actors.
“It’s a little hectic but mostly exciting to have three really wonderful projects that I’m very happy to be doing, and it happened entirely accidentally,” laughs Michetti. “This is my ninth show with Noise and they offered me a ‘bucket list’ play of mine, so I said yes. Then I was offered ‘Charles,’ and that overlaps with a week of my process on ‘Warren,’ but I just had to make it work. And the prep has begun on ‘Streetcar’ for next year.”
“Mrs. Warren’s Profession” explores what happens to a family when Cambridge-educated daughter Vivie discovers that her genteel upbringing has been funded by her mother’s illicit but successful business dealings as a prostitute and madam. Starring Judith Scott — who plays Claudia Crane on the hit FX series “Snowfall” — in her ANW debut as the titular Kitty Warren, the play is set at the turn of the 20th century, yet according to Michetti, it feels surprisingly modern.
“It’s a play that examines Kitty Warren’s choices from different perspectives and without judgment,” says Michetti. “Shaw was brazen to put the plight of women front and center in his art, because it’s a choice none of his contemporaries made. This is a protofeminist play before that terminology was even commonplace.”
Shaw drew shocked reactions when he attempted to produce the play, with “Profession” banned as immoral and improper for the stage while it was still in its debut rehearsals in 1893. The play was called “wholly evil” by one reviewer after a 1902 production by the London Stage Society at the members-only New Lyric Club, and it inspired a near-riot during the rowdy opening night of a 1905 staging in New Haven, Connecticut.
Such outraged reactions stemmed from the fact that the play showed Mrs. Warren as being sassy and proud of her work, rather than having her suffer a downfall amid the puritanical Victorian era. While “Profession” points out how women were undervalued by society and criticized for taking advantage of the few opportunities offered to them at the time of its writing 120 years ago, Michetti sees parallels to the fate that befell Hillary Clinton in losing the 2016 presidential election.
“I’m not trying to point out explicitly the parallels to the clearly sexist components of her loss in that election and how people responded to it,” explains Michetti.
“Because women are systematically disempowered in our society in so many ways, the kinds of behavior a man gets away with while a woman gets criticized is a terrible double standard, and a lot of received ideas about femininity have been dictated to keep women in their place.
“One of the powerful things in ‘Profession’ is that the two leads in the play are incredibly strong women who know what they want, go after it and aren’t confined by society’s constraints,” he continues. “Another exciting thing is that she was a prostitute and a brothel owner, and the play itself doesn’t use those words at all, partially because in that time they never could have gotten it past the censors if they had. Shaw is saying we should not be criticizing the women for taking this profession because it’s one of the few professions available to them.”
Michetti graduated from USC’s theater program in 1980 and started directing plays about a decade later. While he has previously directed “Figaro,” “The Guardsman,” “Hamlet,” “As You Like It,” and “Don Juan” at ANW, he has also been the co-artistic director of The Theatre @ Boston Court since its founding in 2001. He has also directed acclaimed actor Hal Holbrook in “A Life at the Theatre” at the Pasadena Playhouse, and has won two Ovation Awards and four Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle Awards.
“There’s no secret to keeping all these shows and theaters straight,” says Michetti. “There’s a little trick that I have — I carry a canvas book bag for each of the three shows I’m working on, so I know what to grab when I show up, and it’s also in one spot with my scripts and materials. In one day, I could have rehearsal for one show, a meeting for another and be contacting a designer for the third show. The plays each have a distinctive world so they don’t blend into each other. It’s just time management.”
“Mrs. Warren’s Profession” opens Saturday and runs through Nov. 18 at A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena. Tickets are $25 to $70.40. Call (626) 356-3100 or visit anoisewithin.org.