New York City Theater
"The Oldest Profession"
Fortunately for theatergoers in the New York area, Signature Theatre has chosen Paula Vogel as its playwright of the year. The theater selects one important playwright each year, devoting itself to that writer for the entire season.
Vogel's year begins with "The Oldest Profession," written at an earlier date, but now having its premiere production. This remarkable drama begins with a hilarious, and highly improbable, scene, priming the viewer for comedy, comedy, comedy. But the comedy quickly darkens into something else.
At the opening, we see five prostitutes--old friends and colleagues-who have gathered to share their experiences. But these five, who run a brisk business on Manhattan's upper west side, are no ordinary whores. How many whores have we heard of who continue their work at age 70-plus?
Nor is it a comedy, as Vogel leads one to believe initially. Soon there are cracks in the idyllic scene, as evident as the whore's wrinkles. One by one, the ladies (once the toast of New Orleans) succumb to problems which are likely to finish them off.
Leave it to Vogel to offer up a quirky, offbeat, improbable tale, but one that plumbs the deeper truths, and leaves the viewer ultimately shattered!
Director David Esbjornson has assembled a cast of five which works well in ensemble, though individual performances are uneven. But MaryLouise Burke, who plays Vera, a dumpy little lady with the proverbial heart of gold and mind of fluff, is absolutely captivating-and heart-breaking. Others in the cast are less satisfying-with Joyce Van Patten too tough and too negative, Priscilla Lopez, too strident and too young for the role, and Carlin Glynn, too pale and too flat. Katherine Helmond initially plays her part awkwardly, gradually warms to her role. But it is Burke who absolutely steals the show.
Never mind. Whatever the production's problems, Vogel's story itself sweeps the actresses along--and the audience as well. This show runs until Oct. 10.
-- Irene Backalenick