Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 13, No. 17. August 3, 1950
The Respectful Prostitute — And Three Others
The Respectful Prostitute
And Three Others
On Friday, and Saturday last, the VUC Drama Club presented in the Little Theatre, their one act play evening. "Give The Audience A Chance" was first on the bill. It was a pleasant little diversion, ridiculing the petit-bourgeois at the theatre but fortunately it was not prolonged to any great length (or I feel that university sophistication would have found it boring, extremely quickly. "Man In The Bowler Hat" by A. A. Milne and "If Men Played Cards As, Women Do" by George S. Kaufman were much in the same strain. The play by Milne was the better of the two; in a light frivolous way at amused the audience but all were, I believe, a little piqued by the trick played upon us at the end. "If Men Played Cards as Women Do" was, like the other plays, competently acted, but suffered, from the defect of being simply a lampoon on one topic, and once a fair measure of fun had been poked at the object of derision the danger of tedium again became apparent. It would be impossible to mention all by name who pleased by their stage graces and invidious to specify any in particular, though the part played by Henry Connor should not be lost sight of, in the Milne play.
For aesthetic carnivora "The Respectful Prostitute" by Jean Paul Sartre provided the intellectual meat of the evening. Lizzie, a young woman engaged in carnal commerce, has fled from New York to what is presumably the Deep South, and while she is innocently sitting in the train, she witnesses a drunken white murder a Negro. As one might expect, the felon is by blood, a member of the upper crust, "a natural leader of men" training in a military academy, and of course highly esteemed in the locality. To make sure that she will testify in the interest of the oligarch family, she is visited by Fred, a cousin of the murderer, ostensibly for a business relation. After a sordid night, with avid protestations of affections, and other things, Fred speedily discloses his real purpose for visiting her. Besides underpaying her Fred offends her bitterly and fails to make her compliant in the matter of her testimony concerning the killing. The police, in league with the oligarchs also fail to break her will by intimidation, but Fred's father, a Senator with a woolly white beard, looking like a Sunday School God gone to Hollywood, appears. He succeeds where others have failed, by pitching a sentimental yarn, about how sorry the guilty man's mother is Being really very sentimental, the young ten dollar whore falls for the soft-soap and signs the incriminating testimony, which has been fabricated by the Czardom of wealth and respectability. After some passage of crude violence, the realisation of her mistake dawns. Lizzie helps another Negro unjustly accused as much as she can, and in the end she is offered the position of Fred's kept woman in a "nice place" on the hill." Fred assures her that he will visit her at least three times a week and I am not at all sure that Fred's father is not averse to meeting her on the same terms.
It must be admitted, by even the vaguely well-intentioned American citizen, that the race question in that country is a very serious one. It is not enough simply to tell a story about what a shame it all is, without at least stating some kind of solution. Even Hollywood recognises the problem exists and has brought out a couple of films recently; of course, thoroughly muddled and confused so that wicked agitators cannot make political capital out of it. If we are going to have an awakening of social conscience then the film industry will ride the bandwagon too and moralise till further orders, if it will pay. The same mercantile calculation does not apply in the case of Sartre, but the same confusion rolgns in his play. The leading characters are very "mixed up" with a suggestion of subtle neurotic disorders, lurking around, though hard to pin down. This is particularly the case with Fred who wants desperately to be assured by the wanton that she loves him; the Negro also is so much over-awed by the white man's mana that he won't even try to defend himself.
The leading parts taken by Gwenneth Carr, Anthony Kcesing, Roy Melford were well done although voices did not carry very clearly to the back of the hall. Although the play had some defects the VUC Drama Club are to be congratulated on picking upon a playwright Vot well known In New Zealand, yet having something to say.