For a play about sex, this show is certainly lacking passion. The Roundabout Theater’s revival of Mrs Warren’s Profession, Bernard Shaw’s famously scandalous play about the madam of a brothel and her disapproving daughter has been revived in an unfortunately dispassionate production at the American Airlines Theater.
Starring Cherry Jones as the title character Shaw tells the story of a former prostitute and brothel madam who decides to re-enter the life of her daughter Vivien, who was raised at boarding schools. Vivie strongly disapproves of her mother’s chosen profession and a moral and ethical debate begins that has not been resolved in the 105 years since the play’s original performance.
Vivie has benefited greatly from her mother’s money and is a thoroughly educated young woman who is presented with several proposals of marriage throughout the show. However, she seems to only care about studying and working and even her relationship with her most likely suitor, played by Adam Driver, appears to be more that of a friend than a lover. Vivie, who claims her favorite way to relax is with a cigar, a scotch and a good detective novel, is presented as a young man of that period. It isn’t until she learns about her mother’s past that she begins to express some sincere emotions.
The past her mother refers to is the time she spent working as a prostitute, which, she claims, was her only option other than working in a factory, a job that probably would have killed her. Jones, a veteran of the stage, is clearly comfortable in her role and watching her deliver these monologues about her past is fascinating. She makes Mrs. Warrens’ history fascinating and infuriating as she explains what limited options existed for unmarried women.
Hawkins, however, is sadly miscast as Vivien. It is difficult to feel any sympathy for her as she rages at her mother. Instead of exploring the emotions Vivie is feeling, she merely increases the volume of her voice, getting louder and louder until it is truly unpleasant to hear. Her determination to remove herself from her mother comes across as spiteful instead of moral. Vivie’s decision leaves us with sadness, anger and even pity for a woman with such a small view of the world, instead of admiration for a someone who is so firmly rooted in her beliefs.
The supporting cast is able, but not much more. Mark Herlik’s Sir George Croffts never manages to be more than a stereotypical villain. Michael Siberry is amusing as Reverend Gardner and Edward Hibbert is effective as a kindly, genteel art collector.
When the show opened on Broadway in 1905, police closed the production and cited the cast for disorderly conduct. In the age of Tiger Woods and Elliot Spitzer, where sex is discussed openly, this cast could face charges of the absolute opposite.