CHERRY JONES RETURNS TO BROADWAY AS SHAW’S MONEY MAKING MADAM
by HENRY EDWARDS
In “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” written by George Bernard Shaw in 1894, voice-of-pragmatism Kitty Warren (Cherry Jones) takes on her idealistic daughter Vivie (Sally Hawkins) in two intense rounds of verbal warfare.
Gripped by a steely determination to escape the life of horrendous difficulty that awaits women during the Victorian age, Mrs. Warren has relentlessly worked her way up the economic ladder. A former prostitute, she has gone on to earn millions as the manager of a chain of high-end European brothels.
Vivie, her Cambridge-educated offspring, experiences the shock of her relatively young life when she learns that her absentee mother has financed the grown child's life of affluence by exploiting women. Even worse, Mrs. Warren, a capitalistic success story if ever there was one, loves her work, loves being rich and refuses to give up her exceedingly profitable occupation.
Those realities do not sit well with Vivie, a “new woman” and, therefore, a representative of the nascent feminism that was beginning to spring roots in the culture of her time.
Cherry Jones is most assuredly one of the First Ladies of the American Theatre, and Roundabout Theatre’s revival marks her long awaited return to the boards after a four-year absence.
The production also reunites Jones with director Doug Hughes who served as her guide in the star's biggest stage success, “Doubt.” Jones and Hughes deservedly achieved Tony awards for their efforts.
Unfortunately, their new collaboration does not pack the same wallop.
Jones, needless to say, is her terrific self as the entrepreneurial Mother Warren even if there is a gratuitious touch of Mae West in her opening scene. Decked out in flashy costumes and displaying a ripe hourglass figure, the actress places on display a casade of real and synthetic emotions that flesh out Shaw's title character and her drive to survive and prosper.
In her American debut as Vivie, Britain’s Sally Hawkins, a knockout in her award winning performance in Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky,” is divinely eccentric. Yet despite her compellingly twitchy presence, Hawkins has difficulty projecting the core resolve of her character, making it difficult for the audience to believe that Vivie is a symbol of the progressive future of English womanhood.
During their scenes together, Jones and Hawkins also resort to bellowing at each other as if they were “Housewives of Victorian England," leading one to suspect neither they nor their director trusted the material to stand on its own.
“Mrs. Warren’s Profession” surrounds mother and daughter with an essentially wretched group of men, the unprincipled and ruthless capitalist, Sir George Crofts (Mark Harelik), a hypocritical vicar, Reverend Samuel Gardner (Michael Siberry), the hypocritical reverend’s opportunistic son Frank Gardner (Adam Driver) and the best of a creepy lot, aesthete and architect Mr. Praed (Edward Hibbert).
The characters are all stereotypes, and with the exception of Hibbert, remain stereotypical representations, lacking the flesh that would enable them to form a compelling picture of the moral corruption that pervades Shaw’s view of a capitalist society.
Overall, however, if you’ve never seen “Mrs. Warren’s Profession," Roundabout's revival, although not ideal, is well worth attending as part of one’s theatrical education. And it's always a pleasure to see Cherry Jones.
OTHER CRITICAL REACTIONS
The New York Times: The delightful surprise of the generally less-than-delightful ‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession,’ which opened on Sunday night at the American Airlines Theater, is that Cherry Jones, in the title role, does not nearly glow. She glitters...It’shard to avoid the impression that most of [the rest of the cast] are simply striking predetermined poses and saying (not always audibly) predetermined lines, against the backdrop of Scott Pask’s pretty, postcard-from-ye-olde-English-countryside set.
Newsday: There are still thrilling bolts of recognition to be found in this Broadway rarity, even if the Roundabout Theatre Company's adequate production, starring Cherry Jones, is less wonderful than it needs to be. In other words, for starters, it is hard to understand Shaw's wicked and all-important words in this theater, which, for all its comfort and good looks, has a way of smearing articulation (phony British and the real thing), as well as swallowing up the energy of good directors.
NY Daily News: Statuesque, sturdy and with eyes that beam intelligence, Jones draws you in instantly -- and she looks great in Catherine Zuber's bold frocks and hats. It's a treat having her back on stage, following her Emmy-winning presidential term on '24,' but she undermines herself with a sloppy accent that careens from Cockney to outer-borough to Mae West. Hawkins.. makes a feisty, strong-willed Vivie -- awoman so rigid, upright and unyielding it's as though she could crack at any moment. Too bad she's often shrill and difficult to understand. Elocution oddities are contagious. Adam Driver plays the broke opportunist Frank Gardner with a weird singsong. What's in the water backstage?
New York Post: This Roundabout revival of George Bernard Shaw's 'Mrs. Warren's Profession' is agonizingly static and slow, with a tone that navigates a narrow range between flat and distinctly off. Nobody seems to know how to handle the play's wicked balance of anger and comedy. Jones comes close, but only at times.