Review: Mrs. Warren’s Profession at the Roundabout Theater

Mrs. Warren’s Profession is a play ahead of its time.  Written by George Bernard Shaw in 1893, it dealt with prostitution and the role of women in Victorian society.  It was a bold piece of writing, one that was banned at the time  and condemned as immoral, citing its focus on prostitution and incest.

Today it is looked as a powerful piece of writing, and I was eager to see its adaptation brought to life by the Roundabout Theater with two of my favorite actresses, Cherry Jones and Sally Hawkins. Cherry Jones can do no wrong in anything she does in the theater.  My most memorable moments in NYC theater were moments where I witnessed her greatness, from Pride’s Crossing to The Heiress to Doubt, just to name a few.  She is one of theater’s best actresses, in my humble opinion, and I was eager to see how she would perform the difficult role of Kitty, a woman who tries to reconcile with her daughter after her discovery about her mother’s true profession and the money that has afforded them a luxurious lifestyle.

Sally Hawkins, who I loved in Mike Leigh’s film Happy Go Lucky a few short years ago (for which she received an Academy Award nomination), plays Vivie, Kitty’s educated, somewhat intense daughter who has spent much of her life in boarding school and university, away from her mother.  She has been shielded from her mother’s true profession, unknowingly living off the monetary benefits of her mother’s success.  When the truth comes out, she is at first conflicted.  She believes that her mother had no choice, that she was penniless and had to enter a profession so looked down upon out of monetary necessity and lack of opportunity.  But as the play progresses, she develops a deep disdain for it and makes a difficult choice.  Hawkins plays the role with such depth and skill.  She lets her anger slowly build before she lashes out at her mother.   Her character is so interesting, also because she is educated and self-reliant at time when women were rather submissive.  During the show, she resists two marriage proposals, one from a young man, one from a slightly older man (20 years) who turns out to have been her mother’s “business” partner all these years.  She is strong-willed and seemingly very clever.  Hawkins plays her with such grace and skill.  I thought it was a wonderful Broadway debut.

I can not fault Cherry Jones, for as I stated before I adore her work.  However, my one complaint in this play is her accent.  I spent the first act trying to figure out what kind of accent she was trying to adopt.  At some points, it sounded American, at some points Irish, at some points English.  It was not consistent.  However, nor were the accents of other characters.  Frank, Livie’s young suitor, played by Adam Driver, also had a bizarre accent and used intonations that were hard to understand.   The rest of the cast included Mark Harelik, who I loved in “Light in the Piazza” as Sir George Crofts; Edward Hibbert as Mr. Praed; and Michael Siberry as the Reverend.

The performances between Jones and Hawkins as mother and daughter coming to terms with a secret that would destroy their relationship were powerful, and Hawkins particularly lit up the stage every time she was on it.  Her slow realization of her mother’s true existence is powerful, and Hawkins gave a performance I won’t forget anytime soon.   Her character must also deal with the fact that her suitor may be her brother, another plot twist that left me speechless.

At the show’s finish, Mr. Hibbert announced the annual collection for Broadway Cares, the association that collects money to fight AIDS which is affecting so many members of the Broadway community.  I walked triumphantly to the front to meet two of my favorite actresses at the door as they held out the can for donations.   I told them both how much their acting means to me and engaged in a moment of my own greatness as they both accepted the compliments.  Hawkins, in particular, thanked me profusely, stating she wished everyone was like me.  She was so grateful for the comments, so down to earth.  From now on, I will follow her career even more closely than before.

Disclosure: I paid for these tickets with my own money.  They were not comp tickets.  All opinions expressed above are completely my own.

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  1. Congratulations on a superb review of this production: you told us just enough about ‘what’ the play was about and then focused on a critique of the acting. Bravo (or brava!) to you for your fine writing.

    Like you I am a big fan of Cherry Jones — especially her roles on film in “Signs” and “Erin Brockovich” and of course as President Taylor on ’24.’ (Let us all agree Cherry Jones would have won her second Emmy if she had allowed her name to be submitted but she, as ‘the Decider,’ opted out of the 2010 Emmy awards.)

    As devoted as we are as fans, we go too far when we declare our faves can do no wrong. Meryl Streep certainly erred (“Doubt,” “She-Devil,” “The Devil Wears Prada,”); Julia Roberts has gone wrong e.g.”Mary Reilly,” and her notorious smoking scenes in ‘My Best Friends’ Wedding’.; the sublime Kate Winslet has made some horrible decisions (“Hideous Kinky”)

    So its no biggie that even Cherry Jones, hero and icon, can also err — Big Time.

    Thanks to YouTube, we can see videoclips to compane other productions of “Mrs Warren’s Profession.” Cherry Jones/director Hughes decided Cherry was the ‘star’ and allowed her to run amok with a Mae West style interpretation. In one scene, Cherry Jones ad libs a line as “not bloody likely” when it the text says no such thing.

    No Doubt this was a very difficult play to stage. It is one of Shaw’s earliest plays and the young playwright makes a lot of demands on both the performers,(who must deliver prodigiously long monologues) and to the audience who must sit quietly and listen to all of it.
    PS — Its hard to believe that at the end of the performance you attended, Cherry Jones and Sally Hawkins held out donation cans so that the audience could contribute to a ’cause.’ Just like in “Major Barbara.” (!) The cast must have had a good laugh — at your expense.

    • Thank you for introducing me to another Shaw play….you are spot on with your comment about “Major Barbara.” Cherry Jones was not up to her usual standards in this show, you are correct, but I still get a rush from seeing her live. She did have difficult shoes to fill, and you also right that she was channeling Mae West for inspiration which didn’t quite work. Still, the final scene where she got rejected by her daughter did work for me, much more so than her earlier scenes (especially where she made a pass at her daughter’s suitor, Frank). In the end, she made no excuses for her choices in life and Jones carried the lines where they needed to go.

      • Thank you for making a response to my comment. Usually my comments (at County Board meetings, etc) are ignored. So it was nice to know that at least one person read and ‘heard’ what I had to say.

        I hope that this production of Mrs W’s Profession paid off in one way or another for all of the cast members, especially Cherry Jones, who has had a very difficult year (suffering the loss of both parents, and getting into something of a tangle with FOX and the producers of ’24’ over the wretched way that Season 8 turned out).

        Have you seen the photo story, “Making a Cherry (Jones) Tart” at the Broadway.com website? Jenny Anderson, staff photographer, has a photo gallery showing our Fave, as she goes through her costume,make up, ciggie-before-the-show ritual. The pix are a real hoot, especially pic#15, a bit of a naughty pic of Cherry, posing wearing nothing but her laced up boots and a half-open robe.

        Look at those boots in pic#15. Someone (like Alan Jay Lerner & Frtiz Lowe) might have come up with a musical adaptation of Mrs. W’s Profession, and called it
        “Wicked Boots.”

        Now that might have scored some major box office receipts ($$$$$$$), won critical acclaim (or not)….and everyone would be happy, just like they were in 2005, when Cherry Jones et al won those Tony’s for “Doubt.”

        Again, thanx for responding. You are lucky to live in the Greater New Yawk area where you have so many cultural blessings, including the New York Public Library, the Met, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Down here in Grover’s Corner ….

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