WINDY CITY TIMES
||Theater: The Oldest Profession
This article shared 3422 times since Wed Jan 24, 2007
Playwright: Paula Vogel
At: Bailiwick Repertory
Phone: 773-883-1090; $25
Runs through: Feb. 25
By Jonathan Abarbanel
Produced under Bailiwick's new Second Sex Series banner, Paula Vogel's 90-minute play concerns a madam and her four working girls on New York City's Upper West Side in the 1980s. The gimmick is that all five are in their 70s and have operated an independent, floating whorehouse for 50 years. Now, they are challenged by the gentrification of their long-ignored neighborhood and the vagaries of an aging clientele reduced by retirement, illness and death. The Grim Reaper doesn't spare the girls, either, as these members of the unrecorded cash economy slip through the loosely-woven social safety net of the Reagan era.
Vogel launches The Oldest Profession in a funny, acerbic mode as we meet Mae ( the madam ) , Vera, Edna, Ursula and Lillian, and learn how they came north from New Orleans a half-century before. As life and the leaving of it overtake them, Vogel shifts to a serious, caring and heart-tugging mode in this unusual female buddy story.
The staging by David Zak is all about the acting, for there's no scenery or scenic effects to speak of. There are just five women in costumes ranging from urbane to tacky, according to their personalities as interpreted by costumer Abigail Youngerman. The cast is not young ( although all play significantly older than they are ) and shouldn't be. They make one realize how rare it is to see five women Of A Certain Age on stage. Indeed, I can't think of another example. Jeannie Affelder, Helene Alter-Dyche, Jody Goldman, Kate Kisner and Joan McGrath have spirit and style, not to mention long legs and trim figures. But Affelder as Vera and Alter-Dyche as Edna are the two who capture your hearts, perhaps because they are such opposites and yet care for—and take care OF—each other the most. They are the last two survivors of the five, so we see them longer and in extremis as the play darkens.
The six scenes are divided by unexpected musical interludes, in which the ladies perform mostly 19th Century sentimental songs and strut their still-considerable stuff. The production's most apparent weakness is that most of the cast are not strong singers. Zak's troupers make up a great deal with charm and personality—always a greater selling point for ladies than absolute beauty—but they don't completely bridge the gap.
The play itself is not Vogel's most complex or profound, nor her most sociopolitical; it strikes me as, perhaps, a relatively early work. But I suspect Vogel has no other play in which she has more affection for her characters, nor one in which she's created such fiercely independent women ( except with regard to each other ) , happily ignoring the norms and expectations of polite society and at home with who they are.
This article shared 3422 times since Wed Jan 24, 2007
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