2 December 2011
**** 4 Stars
AROUND the turn of the millennium a retired San Francisco teacher called Jane Juska placed a small ad in the New York Review of Books declaring: “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.”
She wrote up her adventures – “a mix of hope, despair, exhilaration and a soupçon of trauma” – in a bestselling memoir that writer and director Jane Prowse has now adapted for the stage. The squeamish may shy from her bid to put the sex into sexagenarian but this small but perfectly formed comedy – where the auditorium has been reduced by half for greater intimacy – is a delight from beginning to end. Lit up with a radiant central performance by Sharon Gless – best known as the first half of the TV cop duo Cagney & Lacey – it has something to say to anyone who has ever been single. We first encounter Jane sprawled on her bed attempting phone sex but these are not the icky “sexploits” of an ageing Belle du Jour. Much as she yearns to age disgracefully Jane’s three decades of celibacy mean she is woefully inept when it comes to meeting men. Like a teenager learning life’s lessons for the first time she is surprised when a succession of senior Lotharios turn nasty once they’ve got what they wanted.
“I don’t desire you!” snaps one post-coital 82-year-old when Jane angles for a repeat performance – some nerve given that she’s a beauty and he looks like a whale with dentures. But what makes the play uplifting and not depressing is the breezy verve with which Jane learns and moves on. As she puts it: “What the hell. You’re only old once, right?” It’s essentially a monologue with a five-strong supporting cast playing lovers, friends, the ghosts of Jane’s parents and characters from her favourite novelist Anthony Trollope. Michael Thomson is particularly good as her thirtysomething suitor Graham and her long-estranged, tongue-tied son Andy. But the evening belongs to Gless, who is blessed with the kind of infectious smile that makes the rare occasions when she drops it all the more powerful. She forms an intense bond with the audience, sitting up and mugging at us whenever a bedroom encounter is going badly. Her best moments are those of quiet dignity as Jane gamely submits to all manner of humiliations – putting her cleavage on the table of a café to please one bewigged pervert – so she can no longer be accused of hiding from life.
The smartly crafted script conveys the hilarity and cruelty of her carnal ventures with ingenious good taste and at one stage Gless performs a solo, fully-clothed orgasm to rival Meg Ryan’s in When Harry Met Sally. Close your eyes to the hideous and ill-fitting domestic set – Prowse’s only glitch – and this is a captivating evening.