Another Star Turn for Cherry Jones
By Isa Goldberg
There are pleasures to savor – along with some disappointments – in this revival of George Bernard Shaw’s sentimental parlor comedy. Some of the most delectable moments arrive early in the first act when we are introduced to the principal characters.
The first one we meet is Vivie Warren. Golden Globe winner, Sally Hawkins makes her Broadway debut here as the spunky, determined Cambridge University graduate whose heart, it turns out, is as hard as her head. Still, Hawkins registers nuances of character with an openness of gesture and intensity of emotion that at times out size her diminutive
stature. It’s a beautifully transparent performance. But for New York theatergoers, the central attraction is Cherry Jones, the Tony Award winning star of “Doubt” and “The Heiress.” She returns to Broadway in the role of Mrs. Warren, an expansive, controlling and sophisticated lady of a certain unspoken trade. Donned in a bright red dress (Catherine Zuber), the character lures us through a circuitous conversation into discovering the secretive and sinful nature of her business endeavors. Jones embraces the role wisely: sweeping through country gardens with swagger, planting her feet firmly on the stage, or at times delivering her lines with her characteristic drawl. (What is a girl from Tennessee to do!)
The two are matched by Edward Hibbert as the family friend, Mr. Praed, Mark Harelik as the undermining business partner Crofts, and Michael Sibbery as the Reverend with a hidden past. And Adam Driver, an actor whose off Broadway work has been quite transfixing of late, makes for a devilish good-for-nothing suitor.
Of course, “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” is one of Shaw’s lesser-known comedies, and certainly not his best. While it reflects his polemical views on the class system, male supremacy, and female sexuality, here the playwright seems less interested in skewering the bourgeoisie than in probing the depth or shallowness of its human connection. To this end there are some complications that arise in Doug Hughes’ staging which focuses our attention more on the relationships and less on the puckish humor. Shaw’s plays thrive on a sense of perpetual motion, even if it is that of rapid-fire dialogue. With so little going on, too many of the scenes feel endless.
At its core, the play is a study of the ambivalence between a mother and daughter with something of a shocking ending. If you’ve ever been a mother or a daughter, you would certainly hope for a more conciliatory outcome. But Shaw pits Vivie’s idealistic pose against Mrs. Warren’s realistic one and in so doing illuminates the ambiguities in their relationship. Vivie may be a strong proponent of self-determination and self-actualization, but she is equally heartless and one-dimensional. Mrs. Warren may be a hypocrite, practicing a business that she says she doesn’t believe in, but she also embodies courage and warmth.
In fact, the real conflict here may have less to do with moral issues than emotional ones. That Mrs. Warren ignites her daughter with such charged feelings may be what spurs her rejection. Vivie is fragile, like a “sparrow,” but thinks nothing of killing off relationships. The image of a steamroller is used to describe both of them; it’s just a question of which one will get run over. To that end, Jones and Higgins are beautifully paired with neither truly stronger than the other.
“Mrs. Warren’s Profession"
American Airlines Theatre (227 West 42nd Street).
Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with a Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. For tickets call 212-71901399, visit www.roundabouttheatre.org or visit the box office