When you read that director Doug Hughes will be helming a new production of Shaw’s tricky but worthwhile Mrs. Warren’s Profession (about a middle aged woman in the “companion” game, and the daughter who doesn’t know how mummy pays the bills)—and that Cherry Jones will be Mrs. Warren—well, the heart fairly leaps with expectation. Unfortunately, upon attendance, the heart’s response is more muted. Ms. Jones, as always, is luminescent as the feisty, savvy businesswoman (is Ms. Jones even capable of a bad performance?), but there the thrills stop. The cast around her is only adequate, and as her daughter, Sally Hawkins is positively shrill. (To some degree, I think this was a conscious choice: to have the daughter be this kind of gawky, graceless young woman who has none of the innate charms that could fuel a career like her mother’s), but it backfires for not being adequately nuanced enough to convey such a notion; mostly the daughter emerges as spiky and annoying.
What made this production even sadder, for me, was knowing how splendidly it can be done in the wake of Charlotte Moore’s near-flawless production at the Irish Rep several seasons ago. That’s the trouble with classics…you have to live up to them…
David Mamet’s charming 1977 comedy A Life in the Theatre is having its third NYC production, but its first on Broadway. A play performed in approximately 90 intermissionless minutes, it is comprised of short, sometimes even sketchy scenes tracing the relationship of John, a younger actor on the rise, and Robert, an old veteran who has always worked but never particularly risen, in an unnamed, un-localed rep company…over the course, one might assume, of a season. Its slice-of-life backstage “naturalism” in the offstage scenes is always just slightly exaggerated, and its onstage scenes, supposedly excerpts, are a parade of broadly exaggerated genre pastiches. Love letter to the theatre much? Of course. No matter who directs the piece or who performs it, it always manages to be pretty much the same in terms of tone and pace, though it’s always fun to clock the nuances of new actors. Here the players are T.R. Knight as the younger, amusingly making the journey from callow to self-possessed; and the redoubtable Patrick Stewart as the seemingly self-possessed but doubt-plagued older. The two have a fine and even slightly mischievous rapport; and they make an adorable couple.
The Divine Sister at the Soho Playhouse is star-playwright Charles Busch “business as usual”; his pop culture targets here are any iconic movie that has ever featured a nun as a central character, from The Singing… to The Sound of Music. He’s in drag as a mother superior (of course he is) and his talented supporting cast—Alison Fraser, Amy Rutberg, Jennifer van Dyck, Jonathan Walker and Julie Halston, all under the direction of Carl Andress—double in various archetypal genre roles to match. How funny you find it all depends upon your tolerance for gay camp and the broad-take, pause-to-mug, interpolate-subversive-obscenity, over-the-top school of comedy—and a meandering sketch-satire plot stretched out to an evening’s length. My tolerance for such is very low, but Mr. Busch has carved out a little piece of NY theatre territory for himself with such outings, and for many years, those who do cotton to it have returned to it, precisely because it’s a branded product that delivers exactly what it says on the label. If you’re likely to be among them, you’ll have a good time. If not, give it a wide berth as you pass.