Sunday, October 03, 2010

THEATER: Mrs. Warren's Profession

One of the safest, most boring revivals ever, Doug Hughes's stab at Mrs. Warren's Profession (or should I say "stabbing of") makes a better argument for director's theater than anything Ivo von Hove has ever done. After all, whether or not you liked Hove's version of The Little Foxes, at least you'd feel something, which is far from true about Hughes's production. With shows like this on its schedule--Pygmalion wasn't much better--it's no wonder that Roundabout aims for star-studded casts--how else to foist something so unimaginative on Broadway than to use Cherry Jones as bait? It hardly serves even an educational purpose, especially since the sight-lines--especially from house-right--and the struggling accents mask so much of George Bernard Shaw's writing, leaving behind only the shrill cries of the most melodramatic of moments.

Sally Hawkins and Cherry Jones do make a fairly good team as the young, studious Vivie Warren and her loose--literally--mother, Kitty, and their reconciliation in Act II serves as a nice counterweight for their big throw-down in Act IV. There's some nice mugging from Mark Harelik, too, who plays Sir George Crofts, Kitty's unscrupulous business partner. But these stand out only against the blandness of Mr. Praed (Edward Hibbert) and Reverend Samuel Gardner (Michael Siberry), personifications of dead air, and the cardboard motives of pretty much everyone in the play, especially Frank Gardner, who is wooing Vivie for her money--something all too obvious from the lack of chemistry, emotion, or anything resembling craft exuding from Adam Driver (who was equally terrible a few years back in The Retributionists).

Nor is Mrs. Warren's Profession a play that can handle slight measures--like Scott Pask's awfully cheap-looking exteriors and optically unnerving interiors. It has not aged well, not simply on account of the lethargic pace, but because the subject material--disapproving daughter discovers her mother is an international madame--is so morally dated. At least Gypsy threw in some pizazz and attempted to unpack a few emotions in the mother-daughter relationship; Shaw's play expects the "taboo" subject to be controversial enough to carry the play. It's not, and that makes the lengthy monologues in which character's justify and condemn the sex trade all the more tedious.

Compared to the modernized visions of Brief Encounters or Sunday in the Park with George (Roundabout does well with imports, apparently), it's hard to call Mrs. Warren's Profession anything other than a lazy mess. For a good time, don't call this number.

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