The Oldest Profession by Paula Vogel, directed by Betty Abramson at Mendocino Theatre Company: July 5 - 13, 2014
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What's in a name? The play title has two words in it; words that, in our society, are provocative —
Oldest. The subject has antiquity; in this case, not just the profession, but the characters themselves. It hits a sensitive nerve. Aging.
Profession. A paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training. Also sensitive. In our society, not everyone agrees on what is “a profession,” nor who is “a professional.”
Produced in 1981, playwright, Paula Vogel, has created a smart script. It lays down the newly defined economic world, now known as “Reaganomics,” onto the fabric of the oldest and the most defamed of professions, prostitution. Conversely — perhaps perversely — Vogel also places prostitution, the most common of denominators, onto the metaphoric fabric of America's economic and social spectrum just as if it was as respected and established a profession as being a doctor, a minister or merchant.
Casually called “the Life” by those who work it, we are able to view the individual personalities, squabbles and affections of the women as a family, not unlike our own. Ostensibly, the Oldest Profession is aboutLife. Truly, it is aboutDeath. Individually and collectively. The death of people we care about, both colleagues and clients, not unlike ourselves. The clients are bankers and politicians. Dare we say, the 1%? As well, our soldiers and husbands-in-need. Dare we say the 99%? Losses counted, we experience reality as it trickles down into the lives of these professionals. A reflection of the larger society. Will they strike? Unionize? Vera says, We'll make a list of demands. Everybody's doing it.
It happens to us all. We lose close friends, associates, colleagues, family, ourselves. Overarching the loss of those who are close to us, this play is about the death of a free society. Despite earlier hard times in our history, the American Dream was once the right of all. This play addresses the death of that dream. It addresses, as well, the prostitution of American democracy. No disrespect intended to the hardworking girls and women of Mae's Stable. We are created equal. In pursuit of the American dream, we are promised life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I guess we can call it, in this day and age, success and pleasure.
But, where does it getcha? If you're lucky, into the 1% or the diminishing middle class. If not so lucky, you creep closer into the streets where the wretched refuge, the bag ladies and shopping cart drivers, refuse can divers, dig into the garbage for a few bites of food, the homeless, tempest-tossed, doing the two-step, waiting to be free or at least to earn a modicum of something precious in life. A bit of grace. Food on the table. Friends. Love. Life.
The overlay of political metaphor is what makes this play a challenging and somewhat scholarly piece, but make no mistake; the underscoring of the personal makes this play not a metaphor at all, but rather, a piercing and poignant commentary on all of our lives. Don't worry. You will laugh despite its message. It uses good humor and great music throughout to tell its story.
It is through the brilliant setting of five, shop-like windows set into a brick wall, that we see the characters as symbols of Every Woman. The personal tour and telling of the individual stories by Rowan Rusert, Stage Manager, brought in a greater dimension. Altars, each one a testament to one of the characters, to the actor, and to the diverse aspects of the One Woman —
Innocence — Always lost so early on, a refinement of our fairytale vision and love of the arts represented in Lillian played by Mary Clare Ditton.
Motherhood and Home — she leaves us alone, always sooner than we think, to grow on our own, represented in Mae, the Madam, played by Ruby Bell Sherpa (weeks 1, 2, 3) and Nancy Fereira (weeks 4, 5, 6).
Dominatrix — she must control every move we and the other makes, offering us the gift of surrender, represented in Ursula, played by Lorry Lepaule.
Lover — she takes joy in life and in those to whom she offers pleasure, be it sister-colleague or needy client represented in Edna played by Maureen Martin.
Purity, the Spiritual Lover — she offers us a sweetness and delight beyond and as a part of pleasure, represented in Vera, played by Janice Culliford.
These priestessly channels of love, sweet love, are actually your neighbors and friends, actors of the Mendocino Theatre Company, all of an age, doing the dance of life, beckoning you to come, see, enjoy. Yes. It will cost you a few bucks. It's a profession. And, it is a dance you will not get to see at another time, on another stage.
Call (707) 937-4477 for tickets. Facebook: Mendocino Theatre Company.