Review: ‘Oldest Profession’ a delight … on Albany Civic stage, that is

For a good time, call on Edna, Lillian, Mae, Ursula and Vera.

For a good time, call on Edna, Lillian, Mae, Ursula and Vera.

The five women are on stage in “The Oldest Profession,” playing weekends this month at Albany Civic Theater. The 128-seat theater was nearly full for the Friday night show.

Bawdy dialogue, sexy outfits and moments both sentimental and sad are part of the play, a story of five veteran prostitutes who must cope with increased competition, and increased aches and pains that have come from years in The Life.

‘The Oldest Profession’

WHERE: Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave., Albany

WHEN: 3 p.m. today and May 12 and 19 and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and May 17-18

HOW MUCH: $15, $10 for students with ID

MORE INFO: 462-1297 or

Action takes place in New York City during the early 1980s. The principals all have distinct personalities. Mae is the tall, silver-haired madam of the troupe, mother hen to her stable of aging chicks. As played by Margaret King, Mae comes across as a tough but caring woman of the evening.

Andrea Valenti’s Edna, in red shoes, short black skirt and short black coat trimmed with faux leopard, is the brassiest of the bunch.

“I wish you could have been there,” she tells her friend Vera, recounting recent ribald revelry, “but the boys wouldn’t spring for the action.”

Vera, portrayed by the long-tressed Juliet King, seems to be the most naive and probably the sweetest girl on the street team. Lillian, played by Joan Justice, is the one-time beauty of the quintet and perhaps the most refined.

Marva Ray’s Ursula is the most rambunctious and temperamental, and challenges Mae for leadership.

Part of the fun with “The Oldest Profession” is listening to the girls — sitting and standing around the main prop, a street bench — talk about their lives, their clients, their adventures in and out of the sack. For guys in the audience, it’s kind of like eavesdropping on talk that might go on inside a bachelorette party, a women’s locker room or a girls’ night out. For women in the audience, they’ve probably heard versions of these conversations before.

The dialogue, under the direction of Carol King (a fellow Gazette reviewer), comes crisp and fast. And all five Jezebels get enough zingers and poignant moments to keep us interested in them.

“Nobody calls me Granny,” fumes Mae, returning from an off-stage fight with a rival prostitute. “Cheap, amateur whores don’t know how to act like ladies.”

The actresses don’t just talk the talk; they walk the walk, too. There are individual segments for quick, sexy songs from the 1930s, and bun-wiggling, chest-pushing romps in glamorous evening attire that the women wear under coats and sweaters. Ray’s Ursula seems to have the most fun with this bit, happy to show off and shake, shake, shake in a tight red top and black hot pants.

So there’s something for the voyeurs, too. But the real heart of the story comes from the worries and problems these garter girls must face: marriage, retirement, failing memories, long days — and nights — at work. They’re working off the books, without pensions or benefits, but they’re just like the rest of us. Anyone who has ever worked any job can sympathize.

The show ends on a triumphant note people will appreciate. They might also like the brisk, 80-minute running time — something Mae and her friends might call a “quickie.”

Categories: Entertainment

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