Cherry Jones and Sally Hawkins
in Mrs. Warren's Profession
(© Joan Marcus)
Cherry Jones and Sally Hawkins
in Mrs. Warren's Profession
(© Joan Marcus)
When Cherry Jones makes her entrance as Kitty Warren in George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession, now at the Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre, she's wearing a red traveling suit and elaborate wide-brimmed chapeau that Catherine Zuber designed according to George Bernard Shaw's request for "a brilliant hat and a gay blouse." While the costume may be just a tad vulgar for the character -- a successful brothel owner -- it's when Jones starts speaking that Doug Hughes' misguided revival encounters its first serious setback.

In attempting to tackle a Cockney accent, Jones not only gets nowhere near the mark, but she also leaves the audience constantly preoccupied trying to figure out why Mrs. Warren sounds so clownishly wrong. Ultimately, her accent undermines the entire enterprise and makes the revered actress' return to the stage after several years a let-down.

Even under the ideal circumstances, audiences may not have much time or patience for sympathizing with the character's troubles. At a careful remove, Mrs. Warren has raised her now-grown daughter Vivie (Sally Hawkins) to be a highly respectable -- if not entirely conventional -- young woman. When the adamantly independently-minded Vivie learns that she has received her privileges as a result of decidedly compromised revenues, any chance of an enduring and rewarding mother-daughter relationship is instantly jeopardized.

Just how much the relationship has been compromised comes clear in the show's final scene, which takes place in the "Fraser and Warren" chambers where Vivie is now basing her liberated lady's business career . Yet, in the ill-conceived verbal wrestling match Hughes has orchestrated, Jones and Hawkins shout like two fishwives while vying across a table about their fraying bond. It simply seems unlikely that such intelligent women would resort to such a shrewish tone of voice.

Still, it can be said in Jones' favor that she certainly presents a larger-than-life figure as Kitty, whom Shaw describes as a "genial and fairly presentable old blackguard of a woman." The actress is convincing as a hard-nosed businesswoman with a soft spot for her daughter that she tries to keep hidden. Nevertheless, Mrs. Warren seems more of a stretch for Jones than she's completely able to make. Her acclaimed affinity for portraying introspective women isn't required here, and, too often, she's left looking as if she's playing dress-up.

In addition to Jones' return to Broadway, the main attraction here is the Main stem debut of Hawkins, the rising British film star, who commanded international notice two years ago in Mike Leigh's upbeat Happy-Go-Lucky. She has no trouble conveying Vivie's hard edge, yet she impersonates a sour-puss to a greater degree than she needs to.

Luckily, not everyone negotiating Scott Pask's pristine sets is at a performing loss; indeed the four male members of the cast do quite well. Edward Hibbert, as Mrs. Warren's loyal companion Mr. Praed, speaks his native English tongue with clarity, has a commendably agile carriage, and keeps an affable smile playing about his lips to great effect. Mark Harelik as the suddenly-smitten Sir George Crofts conjures the dapper man's not-too-beneath-the-surface nastiness. As the Reverend Gardner, Michael Siberry has regal clerical bearing that loosens in a funny morning-after segment, while Adam Driver as his son, Frank Gardner, is a convincing suitor to Vivie.