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Associated Press raves about MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION

October 4, 2010

Cherry Jones and Sally Hawkins team up to make Shaw’s ‘Mrs Warren’s Profession’ relevant again

By Mark Kennedy

NEW YORK, N.Y. — George Bernard Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” hasn’t had a happy life. An early work by the playwright, it was banned virtually as soon as it was written and has never been considered among his best. Even Shaw labeled it one of his “plays unpleasant.”

A new revival by the Roundabout Theatre Company, then, comes as a happy surprise. Helmed by Doug Hughes and starring Cherry Jones and Sally Hawkins, the work is made urgent and subversive.

The profession of the title — not to mince words — is sex. Shaw has used the topic of prostitution to expose hypocrisy in “respectable” Victorian England, assail capitalism and explore mother-daughter relationships.

Written in 1894, the play traces the gradual horrible realization that Vivie Warren, a well-educated young lady with a head for business, has been enjoying her comfortable, modern life because her mother has quietly built a fortune running brothels.

Not only is her mother, Kitty Warren (Jones), not sorry about her career, she defends prostitution as a way for women to avoid starvation wages and argues that it is essentially the same as marriage. That’s a pretty radical conviction even now, but Shaw does not try to provoke with deed or language that would make some in the audience squirm.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t fireworks inside the American Airlines Theatre: Jones and Broadway newcomer Hawkins (Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky”) are first-rate as they circle each other in scene after scene, parrying and thrusting.

Hawkins downplays the daughter’s sensuality. She clumps about the stage with little femininity or sentimentality, fancying herself a whiskey-drinking, cigarette-smoking, independent woman. She is a smartypants who abhors tears and weakness and, thus, is on a collision course with both.

Jones offers us simply everything: smooth sensuality, maternal sweetness, haughtiness, despair, cool humour and, when provoked, a sudden, horrible viciousness. Her British accent grows ever more guttural when she and her daughter have climactic standoffs at the ends of Acts 2 and 4.

“I was a good mother; and because I made my daughter a good woman, she turns me out as if I were a leper. Oh, if only I had my life to live over again,” Mrs. Warren tells her daughter at one point.

“My work is not your work, and my way not your way. We must part,” her daughter responds, in dialogue that easily could be heard between parent and child today. “What have we two in common that could make either of us happy together?”

The men in the play are none too nice: Adam Driver portrays a smooth, young operator angling for Vivie?s hand; Mark Harelik plays a sleazy businessman; Michael Siberry bumbles along as a clueless reverend; and Edward Hibbert (TV’s “Fraiser”) is at his fussy best as an old friend of Mrs. Warren. All turn in wonderful performances, but none of the characters will come as much comfort to men in the audience hoping for a hero.

Particular note must be made of Kenneth Posner’s lighting and Scott Pask’s scenic design. They combine to create stunningly realized locations — elaborate houses and interiors that look lifelike, lush and tall garden hedges that act like barriers to the outside, and an art deco city office, all glowing with sensuous light.


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