“Before I turn 67 – next March – I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.”
So read the ad in the personals column of the New York Review of Books in 1999. After 30 years of a life full of teaching English literature to students from all walks of life – and 30 years of celibacy – the new emptiness weighed heavily on Jane Juska.
So she decided to grab life with both hands – and placed this daring ad in her favourite periodical. She received 63 responses, and so embarked upon a series of adventures with men. Eccentrics, losers, users – but also a nice guy or two. In the end, what you realise, is that you can have anything in life, but not everything.
Sharon Gless, playing Juska, glows on stage. Her warm persona makes her slightly kooky character endearing, and charms us into forgiving a few traits which, on paper, could make us critical of her self-centredness. Her comic timing is impeccable, and she shares in our laughter.
The other five cast members excel at a variety of roles among them. Jane Bertish gives a watchable, quirky performance as the voice of reason as Jane’s supportive friend, Celia, and as the heroine’s puritanical mother. Beth Cordingly shows great versatility as the younger, girlish friend Nathalie, and as poised, Victorian Miss Mackenzie – Jane Juska’s favourite Trollope character, and alter ego.
Barry McCarthy and Neil McCaul are highly entertaining as Jane’s various dysfunctional bed playmates. Michael Thomson displays exceptional skill in the contrasting roles of Jane’s angry, vulnerable son Andy, and the half-her-age, witty and literature-loving soulmate Graham.
Jane Prowse directs in an unobtrusive way that highlights the performances of the actors, while Ian Fisher's set, with its floor-to ceiling bookcases and king-size bed, captures the mixed-bag personality of the heroine.
Without the daring and unusual premise of a mid-60s woman advertising her need for sex and romance, I wonder if Prowse's script itself would make such an impact. Although it is most entertaining, funny and – at times – poignant, it sometimes misses the opportunity to be truly sharp. It's gentle where it could have been incisive. In style, it is more California than New York, and I found myself longing for that extra Manhattan-brand paper cut sharp humour.
Contrary to any assumption, A Round-Heeled Woman is not just a show for middle-aged+ women. It also gives a valuable insight into the vunerabilities of young women and the psychological labyrinth of men’s minds. A must-see show, with a feel-good factor which blows winds of hope into your sails.