By ROY BERKO
Noted for her witty and compassionate prose, Paula Vogel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Oldest Profession, is now on stage at convergence-continuum.
She writes with warmth about subjects which are often the object of repulsion. In probably her best play, How I Learned to Drive, which was recently staged at Cleveland Play House, Vogel took on the subject of child sexual abuse and incest.
As Vogel states, “I only write about things that directly impact my life.” She adds, “If people get upset, it’s because the play is working.”
The Oldest Profession isn’t going to upset many, if any of con-cons patrons. It should incite some laughter, a dash of titillation, and a lot of head nods. It does have some clever lines such as: “Any girl can stand in the alley and end up a madam.” and “We need to get the AARP mailing list.”
The play’s description summarizes it all: “As Ronald Reagan enters the White House, five aging practitioners of the oldest profession are faced with a diminishing clientele, increased competition for their niche market, and aching joints.”
Vogel illustrates the obstacles and angst of the five women of the street. (Well, actually, they don’t hang out on the street, they work out their living spaces or visit the clients). The major problem centers on the issue that their source of income is drying up as the ladies of a certain age have a clientele that is dying off or is too infirm to “perform.”
They’ve migrated from New Orleans to Manhattan under the guidance of their “madam,” the forgetful Mae (Marcia Mandel).
Ursula (Lucy Bredeson-Smith), the financial brains behind the group, wants to take over as she thinks the operation isn’t being run for the highest possible returns. She pesters the “naïve” Lillian (Jeanne Task), who often gives services with no financial reward.
Mild-mannered, timid Vera (Jeanne Madison) concentrates on what she is going to make for dinner and tries to make “nice” to all.
Edna (Valerie Young), the most beautiful and probably the most successful of the group, just wants to keep the business going and not get wrapped up in the politics of prostitution. Not much happens through much of the play other than the oft-humorous bickering and revelations about their geriatric clients.
The production, under the direction of Amy Bistock, leisurely flows along. The cleverest part of the staging is each woman’s final exit, which consists of a burlesque-inspired swan song (performed to the piano music of Moss Stanley).
Marcia Mandel does what she does best—portraying being air-headed. Jeanne Task, the queen of “shtick” faces and vocal gymnastics, delightfully does her thing with verve! Lucy Bredeson-Smith hits her stride when she comes on stage with a sex-whip, dressed in a black leather dominatrix outfit, and takes on audience members and their fantasies.
Jeanne Madison is charming as the gentle Vera, who clearly displays that she is a caring and soothing purveyor of her wares, more interested in mothering than sex. Valerie Young nicely textures the role of Edna, giving the character a clear and identifiable personality.
Scott Zolkowksi’s costumes are excellent.
Capsule Judgment: The script, which is more character study than plot driven, doesn’t have much to say, but it does entertain. Though The Oldest Profession is one of Paula Vogel’s lesser plays, it gets a humorous staging.
The Oldest Profession runs through April 14, 2017, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or click here.