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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Oldest Profession
Though it sends a message, the play doesn’t really tell a story. It’s more a series of anecdotes depicting the characters’ lives and it gets it off to a slow start. As time rolls by, we’re more willing to stay with the ladies for who they are and accompany them where they go.
Directed with a sure instinct for its values by the nimble Ken Sawyer at The Odyssey, the play follows Lillian (Lisa Richards), the pretty stagestruck one; petite girlish Vera (Sara Shearer); glamorous Ursula (Sally Wells Cook) who thinks she’s a businesswoman; Mae, the madam (Eve Brenner) and Edna (Kelly Britt), a brassy extrovert.
It’s 1980 and shadows are just beginning to fall. Musicians are packing up and moving on, a sure sign of the direction the Good Life is heading. The girls review the dwindling bank account Mae manages and regret their diminishing clientele, as the old gents die or move to Florida. They consider advertising in The Village Voice or getting the AARP Mailing List. The women themselves leave the Life (literally), one by one, at the end of each scene. Each announces her passage by stepping forth in a vivid red dress to sing a song, a fitting epitaph. Musical direction and accompaniment are provided by the excellent Beverly Craveiro.
Vogel weaves the women’s stories into the changing world of Reaganomics. They note that the park bench where they sit by day is a bed to the young people in the park at night. They reminisce about their girlhood in New Orleans’ famed red-light district, Storyville, when courtesy and elegant houses with piano players were the order of the day.
The girls are their own worst enemies. When Vera gets a proposal, she makes the mistake of inviting the man’s daughters to the ceremony. They quickly whisk him into a retirement home. Mae must cope with Alzheimer’s and her successor, Ursula, isn’t much better. Edna is reduced to taking a day job at MacDonald’s but doesn’t last the day when the manager finds her "May I help you?" too seductive.
Kelly Britt’s Edna emanates a likeable vitality. As Mae, Eve Brenner is an elegant beauty trailing memories of Old New Orleans. It’s easy to visualize Lisa Richards’s Lillian as an aspiring actress. Sally Wells Cook is very Teutonic as Ursula. Sara Shearer is gamin-like and chirpy as Vera.
John Yelvington’s evocative set design conjures up those mean streets, augmented by Jeremy Pivnick’s shadowy lighting. Someone called lipstick a woman’s badge of courage and Costume Designer Caryn Drake’s pretty dresses reflect this principle. Despite their progressively negative path, Vogel never loses sight of her characters’ vitality and lust for life.
Editor's Note: Here's a link to the review of a production of this play mounted as part of the New York Signature Theater's Paula Vogel season
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
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