Roundabout’s MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION opens this Sunday, October 3rd on Broadway at the American Airlines Theatre (227 W42nd St.)
October 1, 2010
Cherry Jones and Doug Hughes reunite for a third time with ‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession’
By Mark Kennedy
NEW YORK, N.Y. — When Cherry Jones met Doug Hughes for dinner several months ago at a restaurant in the West Village, its wasn’t just to break bread. Each had an agenda.
Hughes, the Tony Award-winning director, wanted to lure Jones back to Broadway with his version of the George Bernard Shaw play “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.” Jones, the Tony Award-winning actress, was being coy.
“He took me out to dinner and I didn’t know which way I was going to go. It was going to be the first time I was going to be back on stage in four years,” she says during a joint interview with Hughes.
“I’d had little birds in my ear saying, ‘Oh, you should hold out for something stark and modern and shocking or whatever.’ I was trying to give everything its due. And we sat down.”
The two had a fertile history. They first worked together in 2003 in a New York Theater Workshop production of “Flesh and Blood.” The next time, each walked away with 2005 Tonys — she for her portrayal of Sister Aloysius in “Doubt” and he for directing her.
Then again, Jones didn’t have a good personal history with the Shaw’s play. She recalled once being so bored by watching a staging of “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” years ago that she walked out in the middle of it.
“There was something about it that lacked charm. And this play has charm — should have some charm. It has broad comedy at times and Greek tragedy at times,” says Jones, who was last on Broadway in 2006’s “Faith Healer.”
“I should qualify that by saying I was falling in love at that moment and it was a first date. I found my sweetheart’s eyes more compelling than ‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession.'”
But Hughes was smitten in his own way. He had first read “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” in his 20s and had lobbied the Roundabout Theatre Company to stage it on Broadway for the first time since 1976.
“I always found it a play with a real beating heart,” he says.
It centres on a proper Victorian-era young woman who is stunned to learn that her comfortable life has been paid for by her mother’s business enterprise: running brothels in Europe. Not only is her mother, Kitty Warren, unrepentant about this income, she’s rather proud of her ability to earn a good wage.
Shaw’s play was an attempt to expose the hypocrisy of genteel society and the ugliness of capitalism. It worked: So shocking was the play that it was banned from being performed for many years.
When Jones and Hughes met for that fateful dinner, the actress had already reread the play while in Los Angeles shooting TV’s “24” — playing President Allison Taylor — and knew that Hughes was probably going to offer her the meaty part of Kitty Warren.
“I read the first three pages and I went, ‘This is just fantastic,'” she says. “I hadn’t gotten to play anything like this, and at almost 54, I’m ready for these gals now. I thought, ‘Who would be more fun to start this next era with than Kitty Warren?’ Especially after 708 performances as a nun. To go from an old nun to an old whore? Heaven! Heaven! Heaven!”
Even so, she couldn’t let Hughes know that. She wanted to make him work for it.
“I had to chat up the virtues of this part a little bit with Cherry,” he says.
“Yeah, it took a minute,” she says, laughing. “He basically sat down and said to me, ‘This is a brilliant play.’ I said, ‘It is. I’m in.'”
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