Review: 'The Oldest Profession' Has a Winning Cast

by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday February 1, 2023

On bench - Juli Parker, Paula Faber, Margaret Melozzi. Standing: Rae Mancini<br>and Jeannie Carson<br><br>
On bench - Juli Parker, Paula Faber, Margaret Melozzi. Standing: Rae Mancini
and Jeannie Carson

  (Source:Burbage Theatre Company)

"The Oldest Profession," a co-production of Burbage Theatre Company and Women's Work Theatre Collaborative, focuses on a quintet of aging prostitutes as they navigate financial hardship and crackdowns by law enforcement.

Playwright Paula Vogel ("How I Learned How to Drive") creates sharp, humorous dialogue and takes us into a dangerous world where these ladies risk getting robbed or murdered.

We first see the women sitting together on a park bench in New York City, circa 1980. They chat in sometimes ribald terms about politicians like Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon, as well as the sexual proclivities of their clients.

The always-excellent Paula Faber ("Ripcord") is Mae, a hard-edged madam who maintains a tight control over her fellow ladies of the evening. Deep down, she cares about her employees. She's even willing to pull out a switchblade to defend their territory from rival hookers.

Margaret Melozzi is a real standout as the business-minded and tart-tongued Ursula, who is always looking out for the bottom line. When she takes over for Mae, she demands the women work twice as hard to keep the money rolling in.

Juli Parker brings a sweetness and light comic touch to the good-natured Vera. Jeannie Carson ("A Raisin in the Sun") as Edna, and Rae Mancini ("Edward II"), as Lillian, round out the ensemble.

Anne Scurria, a veteran of Trinity Repertory Company, makes her directing debut, and does a more than capable job. The pacing is tight, and the performances are all engaging.

Trevor Elliot's set design consists of a brick wall where images of the period are projected.

What I found frustrating was how the story constantly gets interrupted by self-indulgent fantasy sequences. Why Vogel felt the need to insert song and dance numbers into the narrative whenever one of the prostitutes dies is baffling.

Yes, the music and dancing are entertaining. Carson is sexy and seductive in her solo performance, and Melozzi rocks a dominatrix ensemble (Aaron Blanck designed the costumes). Faber and Mancini are having a blast as they sashay and shower audience members with rose petals. But to what end? Was Vogel trying to make a case for the sex appeal of older women?

I wanted to know why these characters ended up using their bodies as a way to earn a living. What were their upbringings like? Did they ever desire to have a normal existence, with husbands and children? We never find out. It's as if Vogel was too afraid to present a realistic portrait of women selling themselves for money. It's truly a disappointment, because the world of prostitution is a ripe subject for drama, even comedy. There were so many possibilities, and Vogel misses a lot of them.

As it stands, "The Oldest Profession" benefits from the top-notch work of the actresses. When the ensemble discuss the tricks of the trade, it's compelling. If only the script had the courage to probe deeper into these women's psyches so we could better understand why they do what they do.

Note: The show runs 100 minutes with no intermission. Face coverings are required.

"The Oldest Profession" runs through February 19. Burbage Theatre Company. 59 Blackstone Avenue, Pawtucket, RI. For tickets, call 401-484-0355 or visit

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.