Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mrs. Warren's Profession

“Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” George Bernard Shaw’s 1894 drama that reexamines the pros and cons of prostitution, contains no violence or obscenities. Yet when it was first performed in New York in 1905, the police considered it so incendiary that they shut down the production and arrested the cast and crew.

While its shock value has worn off over the past hundred years, the play remains an exquisite exploration of moral hypocrisy and economic disparity in Victorian society.

It revolves around the tense relationship between Vivie, an educated young woman, and her mother Kitty, who rose out of poverty by running a prostitution ring.

In spite of the fact that Vivie has benefited from Kitty’s money, she refuses to condone her mother’s line of business and decides to leave her behind forever, forgo several marriage opportunities and ultimately work as a low-paid clerk.

The Roundabout Theatre Company’s production, which reunites the “Doubt” team of director Doug Hughes and actress Cherry Jones, is a traditionally straightforward but uninspired and stale staging.

Jones, awkwardly sporting a working-class cockney accent, tries to bring a rough edge to the steely title character. However, it is an unfocused and excessive performance that undermines the credibility of the character.

British actress Sally Hawkins convincingly portrays Vivie as nonsexual and down to business, but becomes too over-the-top and whiny in the play’s final confrontation scene.

The rest of the cast is wildly uneven their acting styles. Edward Hibbert, in a small role, retains his humorous bent but is too restrained to make much of a difference.

If you go – “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” plays at the American Airlines Theater through Nov. 21.
227 W. 42nd St., 212-719-1300, roundabouttheatre.org.

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