FLORENCE, S.C. -- What do you get when you cross five aging hookers with a (literally) dying market?
It might sound like the beginning of a crude joke, but it’s actually the foundation for Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel’s "The Oldest Profession," a risqué comedy full of both brass and heart, coming soon to the Francis Marion Theatre Performing Arts Center’s Black Box Theatre stage.
Set in 1981, shortly after the election of Ronald Reagan, the scene is a sunny park bench in New York City’s Verdi Square, 72nd Street & Broadway. Mae, a madam, and her stable — Ursula, Lillian, Vera and Edna — are five “working girls” (the youngest a spry 72 years old), at the end of their long, illustrious careers.
While waiting for appointments with their gentlemen callers, the women reminisce about their early days in New Orleans’ Storyville — where, Mae says, “there was honor in the trade”— and argue about their options today. One of their customers has been kidnapped by his children. Another thinks it’s still 1940 and has taken to paying with silk stockings. Others are in the hospital and may not make it out. For Mae’s stable, the financial situation is grave, and these girls aren’t getting any younger.
The outlook is grim, but the women still manage to face their futures with wit, humor, and compassion, as Vogel uses the notion of elderly prostitutes as a way to talk about the economic situation of women in a male society, the need for security in old age, the fears of death and change, and the age-old notion that a woman’s best (and sometimes only) bargaining chip is her body.
“Some most definitely will NOT appreciate both the subject matter and how it is portrayed and interpreted by the author,” said FMU Theatre director A. Glen Gourley Jr., who is also directing the company’s production. “It’s actually the first time for FMU that no one under the age of 18 will be admitted to a play.”
It’s also the first time an FMU Theatre cast will consist solely of FMU faculty, Gourley said.
“Our auditions are always open to anyone who would like to audition,” he said. “While our primary participants are our theater majors/minors, our productions are open to and very often use others to include faculty. It simply worked out this time to be an all-faculty cast.”
Each year, the school’s theater faculty discuss and choose its productions, a “committee of the whole” picking from suggestions that each director brings to the table.
The university’s theater department offers three major productions each year and as many as 12 student-directed, experimental theater productions. Each year, more than 150 students from across the campus participate in the shows, which act as a laboratory for the theater majors and minors while serving the entire campus and community. Student actors and technicians learn to sustain high standards of performance through exposure to a large and demanding audience.