The Oldest Profession

By Paula Vogel

Directed by Craig Johnson

The time is 1981, shortly after the election of Ronald Reagan. The place is a sunny park bench in Verdi Square, 72nd Street & Broadway, NYC. The people are Mae, a madam, and her stable: Ursula, Lillian, Vera and Edna. They are five "working girls" at the end of their very long careers. The youngest is 72 years old. While waiting for appointments with their gentlemen, 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. They are businesswomen whose clients are literally a dying breed. One of their customers has been kidnapped by his children. Another thinks it's 1940 and has taken to paying with silk stockings. Others are in the hospital, and may not be coming out. For Mae's stable, the financial situation is grave . . . and these girls aren't getting any younger.

Pulitzer Prizewinning playwright Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive) uses the notion of elderly prostitutes as a way to talk of 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.

With the warmth generated by longtime friendships, and personality enriched by a lifetime of experience, the actresses in The Oldest Profession humanize the absurd spectacle of elderly prostitutes. These characters are independent, fun-loving, and gallant. A cast of five with 87 accumulated years of experience in theater portrays the sisterhood with lively, unsentimental humor. With the exceptions of Bertie Donovan and Marcy Weiland, all are making their Mercury Players debut.

Produced by Mercury Players in the Evjue Theatre at the Esquire, 113 E. Mifflin Street.

May 6
8 pm
May 7
8 pm
May 8
8 pm
May 9
2 pm
May 13
8 pm
May 14
8 pm
May 15
8 pm
May 16
2 pm
May 220
8 pm
May 21
8 pm
May 22
8 pm
May 23
2 pm

Tickets are $10.00. Call 242-0150 for reservations.

For more information, call Marcy Weiland (producer) 251-1886 or Craig Johnson (director) 233-3794


The Playwright

Paula Vogel recently won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for her extraordinary play How I Learned to Drive. Previously, Vogel won a 1992 Obie Award for Best New American Play for The Baltimore Waltz. Her plays have been produced by American Repertory Theatre, Circle Repertory Theatre, Center Stage and Yale Repertory Theatre, as well as throughout the United States and abroad.

The Director

Craig Johnson is making his Mercury Players debut with The Oldest Profession. Last summer, he directed Picasso at the Lapin Agile for Strollers Theatre, where he has acted in numerous productions, including The Woman in Black and Our Country's Good. While in college at UW-Eau Claire, he directed Uppies and Downies and 16th and Mission-both of which appeared at the American College Theatre Festival in Green Bay-and Leroi Jones' Dutchman.

The Cast

Bertie Donovan (Edna) made her stage debut in Jane Martin's Vital Signs. Since then she has appeared as Amelia in Amelia Lives, Miranda in Mercury Players' Raised in Captivity, Jesse in 'night Mother, Vita in Vita and Virginia, Mrs. Sarti in Galileo, and most recently as Edna in A Delicate Balance. Bertie teaches psychology at MATC and is a research scientist at the Waisman Center, UW-Madison.

Barbara Houghton (Vera) has performed with community theater groups in Portland, Oregon, Boston, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Since moving to Wisconsin in 1968, she has worked with Strollers, CTM, University Theatre, Madison Creative Arts Program, Reprise Theatre, and Honest Puck Productions. Favorite roles include Amanda in Glass Menagerie, Lottie in Lettice and Lovage, Sloth in Dr. Faustus, and, most recently, Mrs. Dubose in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Gloria Pickard (Ursula) began working in theater less than two years ago, after retiring from nursing. She's worked backstage, onstage, and as stage manager with Strollers and Madison Theatre Guild. Roles to date are Ouiser in Steel Magnolias and Madame de Rosemonde in Les Liaison Dangereuses.

Isabelle Polner (Lillian) has performed as actor or dancer with the Reprise Theatre, the Metro Dance Company, the Wisconsin School of Ballet, Strollers, and with several ensemble groups in readings for seniors. She has appeared in The Nutcracker, Cinderella, and as Muriel in Plaza Suite.

Marcy Weiland (Mae) is artistic director of Mercury Players. A charter member, her performing credits include Family Life, Little Slices, Desire, Hilary in Raised in Captivity, Mary Ann in Escape from Happiness, and most recently, Maggie in Temp Slave. She has also directed, written, and produced for Mercury.