Cherry Jones has teamed up once again with her director of choice Doug Hughes after a four year absence on Broadway. He and she both won the Tony in 2005 for “Doubt”. Can lightning strike twice?
This time ‘round he is directing her in a revival of George Bernard Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” at the American Airlines Theatre. In case you are not a fan of Shaw who can become verbose to a fault at times, the profession of Mrs. Warren is that of a co-owner of a chain of very profitable brothels. She herself started from scratch on her back so to speak and that leads to “the confessional” to her daughter Vivie (Sally Hawkins) in Act I of this extremely handsome production designed by Scott Pask.
They hardly know each other and throughout the play they are at odds with one another except for a brief reconciliation after the “confessional” where Kitty, Mrs. Warren, gives her daughter advice somewhat akin to what Polonius gives to his son in Hamlet. To no avail, however. Vivien is an unconventional, well educated young lady who has lived well due to her mother’s wealth. When she discovers just how Mama obtained this wealth she rebels and that leads to the “confrontation” in Act II.
That’s it in a nutshell. Two wonderful roles for women. Cherry Jones is feisty, flirtatious and has a natural swagger bordering on a Mae West impression. She looks magnificent in the outfits designed by Catherine Zuber, is smart and not about to take any lip from anybody. She is her own self made woman who wants desperately to protect the daughter that she loves dearly despite being “a bit of a vulgarian”. It’s a powerful and uninhibited performance.
Vivie hasn’t fallen far from the tree that bore her, despite not knowing who her father is. Unfortunately with two dialect coaches in the wings Ms. Hawkins choice of accent leaves one wondering what it is she has said most of the time. She’s a prude and disproves of her mother’s profession, is tense, strident and combative. If only we could decipher the words “struggling on her tongue,” to quote Shaw himself.
On to the men. Most of who are friends in a rather intimate way from Mrs. Warren’s past. Edward Hibbert is Edward Hibbert. Mark Harelik is George (co-brothel chain owner) who puts the make on Vivie, offering her a luxurious life which she will have nothing to do with. She wants to earn her own way in an acceptable profession opting to remain single despite her attraction to Frank Gardner (Adam Driver) who is by far the best male member of the cast. He has a wonderful reserved humor and honesty about him. He wants to marry Vivie despite the fact that he has no money and is a gambler. As the son of the Rector whose relationship with Kitty seems to be written on the lovely garden hedges foreshadowing the future Michael Siberry puts forth an amusing portrayal.
For fans of Shaw and Cherry Jones this is a grand, beautifully designed opportunity.
Photo: Joan Marcus