Review: Mrs. Warren’s Profession

There are more than a few highly dramatic moments in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Problem is, not all of them have to do with the play Shaw actually wrote.

Surely, the best thing about this production is Cherry Jones in the title role of Kitty Warren, a one-time prostitute, and later a Madame (though Shaw cleverly avoids using either word). Jones has worked this character out in detail, and her vivid movements are consistent with the Kitty that Shaw clearly envisioned. Her accent is unusual, but not entirely implausible for a city madam letting loose a bit for her visit to the country.

The choices that Sally Hawkins has made in playing Kitty’s accountant daughter Vivie are more questionable. Up until the final scene, she’s not completely wrong-footed, just a bit on the shrilly melodramatic side. For that final confrontation between mother and daughter, everything Shaw wrote about it indicates that Vivie is now coolly in control of her decisions, and decisive about not wavering from them. Instead, however, Hawkins gives us a Vivie so enraged by her mother that she screams her lines inarticulately.

Shaw meant us to see Vivie happy in her life, where Hawkins seems more grimly resigned. I don’t know whose idea this was, Hawkins’s or director Doug Hughes, but wherever it comes from it is dead wrong. It does give an extra melodramatic charge to the scene, and allows us to sympathize more with Kitty’s wounded maternal feelings (especially given the sensitivity of Jones’s portrayal), but it’s far from a worthy trade-off.

The rest of the cast range from oddly solid to solidly odd. Adam Driver’s Frank Gardner is oilier and more cynical — and sexier — than what Shaw wrote, an intriguing choice that never quite pays off. Mark Harelik is every inch the proper yet vicious Crofts, and Edward Hibbert is his usual plummy self as Praed, which is entirely right for the role. Truth be told, I enjoyed much of this Profession, but its overall effect left me dissatisfied.

For tickets, click here.

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