by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre (ABET) opened its first show of 2012 “The Oldest Profession” on January 20 and it will run through February 4 at 716 Ocean Boulevard in Atlantic Beach. Call 249-7177 for reservations or visit their website at www.abettheatre.com.
Do you know what is considered the world’s oldest profession? If you don’t, you are probably too naïve or young to see this play. The world’s oldest profession, is not, as one person was overheard to say, goat herding!!
The setting for this comedic drama is a park bench in New York City, on the Upper West Side, and the time is early in the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. The bench is the regular break stop for five women of advanced age who are self-employed prostitutes. The ladies have been in this business for some 40 to 50 years, having met each other back in Storyville, the red light district of New Orleans, when they were all much younger. They moved to New York to ply their trade when Storyville was torn down by the federal government to build a housing project.
Led by their madam Mae (Patty Zipperer), they spend their break time discussing their clients, their dwindling finances, their aches and pains, and their food likes and dislikes. Ursula (Jane Bull) is apparently next in line to become the madam and business manager. She has a business mindset and has ideas about implementing improved time management, along with promotions. Vera (Pam Larson) would rather talk about the foods she likes to cook. Lillian (Leslie Lyne) the youngest of the five, is a theatre buff, loves to go to plays, and sometimes swaps her ”merchandise” for theatre tickets. Edna (Judy Hulett) just seems to enjoy the work and is especially proud of having turned a $100 trick earlier, certainly a remarkable feat when compared to the $10 to $15 that the ladies usually expect to receive from their clientele, who are almost all retired and living in senior centers.
The first act is a bit bawdy and naughty as the ladies describe their sexual adventures with men who are well past their prime; the dialogue is laced with wit.
During the show, each of the five ladies is involved in a flashback to the good old days in New Orleans, and each either sings a song or performs a dance from the past. The lights are dimmed as spotlight operator Jennifer Latka bathes the performers in light. They are accompanied by the dapperly dressed jazz saxophone player Leonard Alterman, wonderfully playing such songs as “Fever” and “Let Me Entertain You.” The audience truly loved these segments and wildly applauded each performance. The show-stopping song was “If I Can’t Sell It, I’ll Keep Sittin’ on It.”
At the start we called this a comedic drama because everything is not coming up roses here. The women can’t get social security, their clients are fading away, their rent is going up, and law enforcement is becoming increasingly difficult to deal with. We will leave the conclusion of the play for you to appreciate.
We have never seen an audience arrive so early at any community theatre production in Jacksonville; the theatre was full by 7:30 as the audience awaited an 8 o’clock curtain!! Why? All the actresses in the cast are well known in the beaches area. All five appeared together in “The Octette Bridge Club” at ABET. In addition, four of the performers have appeared with the Sassy Tappers, a dance group that entertains at the beaches. Besides their excellent comic timing, they were remarkable in learning and delivering two hours of dialogue almost flawlessly.
The play, written by Paula Vogel, debuted in 1988. Ms. Vogel is a cutting edge writer and you may be familiar with two of her other plays with the gutsy themes of incest and AIDS: “How I Learned to Drive,” which won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and “The Baltimore Waltz.” In a play about the sex trade, you would expect to hear references to AIDS and Viagra, but Vogel expertly set the “The Oldest Profession” play in a time before these became buzzwords when discussing sex. As you have certainly surmised, due to the subject matter, this is adults-only material. The show delivers lots of laughs, especially in Act I. In Act II, we find out these are real people with real hearts and big problems that aren’t going to go away.
The set by Director Celia Frank and Pam Larson consisted of a background with brick walls, without greenery, for the park bench, and an area to the side that was furnished to suggest a bordello parlor.
The cast created their own costumes with the assistance of costume coordinator Margaret Hennessey. Beth Caudell stages managers the production with light and sound design by Bryan Frank.
ABET only has about 80 seats and the first weekend was sold out. The rest of the run should sell like hot cakes, so call and reserve early.
THE OLDEST PROFESSION
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM