Gilmer McCormick, Kate Larkin, Michelle Chalmers, Mary Ann Johnson,
Susan McNeese Lynch & Diane Stretz-Thurmond in The Oldest Profession.
Photo-Eve Theatre Company
The Oldest Profession
By Paula Vogel
Directed by Nancy Hoover
Review by Keith Waits.
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Eve Theatre Company’s new production is the second play in a row I have seen in the Henry Clay Theatre space that concerns itself with senior citizens in America. The five senior women in The Oldest Profession are, however, prostitutes. Of all the many examples of such characters that can be counted in American letters, and there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, I cannot think of another that casts its eye on the septuagenarian variety working a NYC circuit of aging (sometimes dying) clients.
The play is set on 1980 one week before the presidential election that will usher in the supply side economics of Ronald Reagan, and the central point of conflict over the management of the ladies’ business affairs is intended as a commentary on that controversial policy. I doubt that relationship to reality will feel meaningful to audiences thirty-four years later, even with the recent debate about U.S economic policy, and the removal of that context (as well as the paltry earnings exhibited among the group) makes the material feel at least slightly dated.
Fortunately the five women are colorfully drawn characters and the shifting affection and conflict between them is compelling enough to hold our interest. Mae (Mary Ann Johnson) is the “madam” of the group, older, more experienced, and no longer taking clients. Ursula (Diane Stretz-Thurmond) is the conservative dissenter who has her own ideas about the business. Lillian (Michelle Chalmers), Edna (Susan McNeese Lynch) and Vera (Gilmer McCormick) seem unified in their loyalty to Mae and each other. The ensemble seems comfortable together and these last three have particularly fine energy together. Ms. Chalmers gives a subtle edge to her character, while Ms. Lynch and Ms. McCormick poignantly portray the closest-knit friendship during the play’s final scenes. It is a welcome depth of feeling after the flagging energy and uncertain pace of the earliest scenes.
The women speak of a lengthy history (more than fifty years) “in the life,” beginning in New Orleans and later moving up to the Big Apple. It is a tale that seems curiously devoid of much risk or violence, although Edna is freshly bailed out of jail at the very beginning. Still, the play does not glamorize the world these women occupy, and their uncertain living arrangements and poverty-level budget are likely another correlation to the developing state of affairs of the have-nots in 1980 America.
It also doesn’t give much away to reveal that mortality plays a role in proceedings, and departing characters are given a sassy send-off belting out blues songs accompanied by musician and singer Kate Larkin. It nicely harkens back to their origins in the Big Easy and helps frame the action with some flavor and much-needed energy.
The Oldest Profession seems to be perhaps a lesser work from Paula Vogel, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for How I Learned To Drive, but it’s easy to understand its appeal for this company.
The Oldest Profession
October 30 – November 8, 2014
Eve Theatre Company at
The Henry Clay Theatre
604 South Third Street
[box_light]Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at the Louisville Visual Art Association during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.[/box_light]