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NY Theater Reviews

Sally Hawkins and Cherry Jones/ Ph: Joan Marcus

SCANDAL SERVED LUKEWARM

By SANDY MACDONALD

Shaw’s trophy bawd is mis-served by a lackluster, off-kilter production.

Miscast, misconceived, misconstrued … director Doug Hughes has set the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of George Bernard Shaw’s 1893 classic – so incendiary in its day that the 1907 Broadway premiere prompted a police raid – on simmer.
 
Negating the entire thrust of the play is the choice of Sally Hawkins (elfin star of the 2008 Mike Leigh film Happy-Go-Lucky) as Vivie Warren, whom Shaw described as “an attractive specimen of the sensible, able, highly educated young middle-class Englishwoman. Age 22.” Surely we’re meant to feel some concern that this bright and nubile young lady, fresh out of Cambridge, appears immune to romance: It’s like watching the needless sacrifice of a vestal virgin. Hawkins is 34. Everything about her (posture, gestures, intonations) suggests not a new grad tremulously testing the waters, but a resolute adult long since settled on a career as accountant.
 
In the pivotal role of Mrs. Warren – in Shaw’s words, “rather spoilt and domineering, and decidedly vulgar, but, on the whole, a genial and fairly presentable old blackguard of a woman” – Cherry Jones plays the crude card way too early. She affects a Tugboat Annie swagger, when Mrs. Warren’s ticket to semi-respectability has been her ability to pass as a lady and thus attract a higher class of clientele – such as her business partner, Sir George Crofts (effectively skeevy Mark Harelik). So polished is she, or ought she to be, that a Bohemian acquaintance, the genial aesthete Mr. Praed (Edward Hibbert, superb as always), can claim to be unaware of her occupation.
 
Hughes makes so many missteps, the whole balance is thrown off. Instead of playing out like a moral conundrum, this Mrs. Warren reads like a morality play. Shaw welcomed the scandal that surrounded this work; he wanted it to inspire outrage and furious debate. He’d have been deeply disappointed by this tepid rendering.