Mrs. Warren's Profession -- Theater Review

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It's not surprising that "Mrs. Warren's Profession," George Bernard Shaw's play about a mother and daughter in conflict over the former's having made a fortune running a string of brothels, no longer packs the scandalous charge that it once did. But the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of this 1893 work is far stodgier than it should be. Despite the presence of Cherry Jones in the title role and exciting British actress Sally Hawkins ("Made in Dagenham") as her aggrieved daughter, Vivie, the revival directed by Doug Hughes ("Doubt") has an unfortunate summer-stock feel.

In her first stage appearance since her Emmy-winning presidential turn in "24," Jones well captures the complex nature of her character, who rose from poverty in a manner that the playwright effectively used as a symbol for the general exploitation of the working class, and women in particular. The actress certainly nails her showcase scene, in which she haughtily defends herself to the self-righteous daughter who attacks her for her hypocrisy after learning the source of the fortune that has given her an upper-class upbringing.

Hawkins, despite a tendency to occasionally swallow her lines, delivers a strong portrayal that resembles her very different, award-winning turn as the perpetually cheery optimist in Mike Leigh's film "Happy-Go-Lucky" only in its fierce intensity.

But despite their efforts, the production never catches fire, a result not only of the play's datedness -- it's not one of the playwright's best -- but also the general stodginess around them. Although the director has assembled a decent supporting cast, including Mark Harelik as Mrs. Warren's pragmatic business partner and Adam Driver as the young man who admits to romantically pursuing Vivie basically for her money, the proceedings lack the emotional and moral charge that Shaw intended.

It certainly looks handsome enough, with excellent contributions from Scott Pask's sets, including a perfectly lovely cottage garden, and Catherine Zuber's handsome period costumes (Mrs. Warren has never looked better). And the play, whose characters also include a hypocritical reverend with a secret sexual past, has more relevance than one might expect.

But it's hard not to imagine that Shaw would have been disappointed by the blandness permeating a work that, upon its Broadway premiere in 1905, was considered so shocking that it was shut down by the police.

Venue: American Airlines Theatre, New York (Through Nov. 28)
Presented by: Roundabout Theatre Company
Cast: Cherry Jones, Sally Hawkins, Adam Driver, Mark Harelik, Edward Hibbert, Michael Siberry
Playwright: George Bernard Shaw
Director: Doug Hughes
Set designer: Scott Pask
Costume designer: Catherine Zuber
Lighting designer: Kenneth Posner
Original music/sound designer: David Van Tieghem
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