A Round Heeled Woman

A Round Heeled Woman

Reviews

"Each actor was brilliant in every aspect of their performances."
Award-winning actress takes GableStage (The Miami Hurricane)

"The direction, lighting, and musical score were impeccable."
A Round-Heeled Woman: MILF gets her mojo back (Miami NewTimes)

"... clearly a play with a future."
An ode to reclaimed joy (Miami Herald)

"... one of those rare ideal mergers of actress and role."
A Star Turn for Gless (Palm Beach ArtsPaper)

"Gless... is charming and wonderful as the star of the play"
Theater: A Round-Heeled Woman (Windy City Times)

The Miami Herald – 8/1/11

 

`A Round-Heeled Woman' an ode to reclaimed joy – By Christine Dolen

A Round-Heeled Woman, the memoir-inspired play starring a radiant Sharon Gless, is a sexy, funny, touching celebration of one mature woman's journey from unintended celibacy to a recharged sex life.

Yet on a deeper level, director-playwright Jane Prowse's script is about so much more: facing fears, taking chances, admitting mistakes, seeking forgiveness. Above all, the play is an ode to reclaimed joy.

At GableStage through the end of January, A Round-Heeled Woman is based on the memoir of retired teacher Jane Juska, whose frank personals ad in the New York Review of Books led to a sexual odyssey, personal growth and familial reconnection.

Juska's journey was, obviously, more complex than a 90-minute play can convey. But both Prowse's storytelling and Gless' embodiment of Juska are full of emotional truths, some full of exhilarating optimism, others just plain painful.

Prowse, who also directed the GableStage production, immediately establishes a tone and cleverly puts anyone who might be nervous about the play's subject (an older woman asks for sex – and gets it!) at ease.

As the lights come up, we see Gless alone on a bed, obviously engaged in the start of some flirty phone sex. She tells the guy on the line that she has never done this before, that of course she's alone because she'd never get all erotic in front of an audience. Then she notices us, hangs up, stands up and starts talking. We laugh, and any tension dissipates. We like her. There's no divide between actor and audience.

Gless, the television veteran so very familiar from Cagney & Lacey, Queer as Folk and Burn Notice, proves as fearless as the woman she portrays. Whether changing clothes in full-on stage light, getting busy with the actors who play Jane's varied lovers or delivering a When Harry Met Sally-level orgasm, Gless goes all out. In both scenes that work well and scenes that still need work, the star is a compelling presence, both brave and vulnerable.

Gless' five fellow cast members, South Florida actors all, each play multiple roles. That's a challenge for the performers, who must slip quickly from one persona to the next, and for costume designer Ellis Tillman, whose deft work helps differentiate and define characters from different eras.

Laura Turnbull plays Jane's long-dead, disapproving mother, as well as a close friend. Kim Ostrenko is another pal and Jane's literary heroine, the title character of Anthony Trollope's Miss Mackenzie. Howard Elfman plays a pair of Jane's elder lovers, one cruelly frank, the other a sex-hungry guy with no filter. Stephen G. Anthony plays a dismissive lover, an ailing one, a lustful loser and, in flashbacks, Jane's creepy dad.

All of those actors deliver what's asked of them, but the one who truly shines is Antonio Amadeo. Most memorably, he plays Jane's estranged son (both as an angry teen and a changed man) and Graham, an intellectually compatible and ultimately irresistible guy half her age. The play's sweetest, most dramatic moments belong to Gless and Amadeo.

After a workshop version a year ago in San Francisco, A Round-Heeled Woman is getting its first full production at GableStage. And like most new works, the play could benefit from further tinkering.

A scene in which Jane and pals take dance lessons, followed by the occasional reappearance of their goofy instructor (Amadeo, whose sole purpose is to distract us so Jane and her man of the moment can hop into bed) just isn't needed. Truthfully, neither are the bits involving Miss Mackenzie and her cousin-suitor (Amadeo again), regardless of their thematic relevance.

Still, thanks to an inspiring true story and the charismatic star telling it, A Round-Heeled Woman is clearly a play with a future. You might not have as good a time watching it as Juska did living it – but you'll come close.

Christine Dolen is The Miami Herald's theater critic

South Florida Theater Review – 8/1/11

 Sharon Gless shines as sexed-up senior at GableStage – By Bill Hirschman

As droll and insightful as the GableStage production of A Round- Heeled Woman is on its own merits, Sharon Gless brings a surprising dimension to the 66-year-old English teacher who advertises for sex in the New York Review of Books.

Itʼs no surprise that Gless, best known for tough-talking dames on television, easily inhabits the smart and courageous heroine depicted in Jane Prowseʼs deft adaptation of Jane Juskaʼs memoir.

But what Gless exposes with the briefest glance of fear or a quaver at the end of a sentence is vulnerability. We can see her scraping away protective barriers so that she can experience life, whether it be pain or joy.

There was no visible shred of the self-confident detective from Cagney & Lacey or the blustery Mattie from Burn Notice at Saturdayʼs opening. When she explains to her girlfriends, “I havenʼt been touched in 30 years,” she trembled at the starkness of the statement that scared her as well as us.

Under Prowseʼs direction, Glessʼ Juska is a recognizable neighbor as terrified as any of us would be hazarding our self-image, selfworth and self-respect to search for human connections.

And because of that, Gless and Prowse win us over from the opening scene in which we discover Juska nervously experimenting with phone sex, unconsciously stroking herself as she jokes with the caller.

The meat of the play is the engaging travel guide narrating an account of her first year following the moment she placed the ad: “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.”

Prowseʼs script tracks initially comic–but not cartoonish– encounters with older and younger suitors, some of which go south and wreak emotional damage. Before one tryst with a stranger, she tells anxious friends, “If you donʼt hear from me in three days – be happy for me.”

Virtually everyone in this play is not only offbeat but carries around a complete set of American Tourister baggage. Juska divorced her first husband, had difficult relations with her parents and is estranged from her adult son.

While many good actresses could do this role, Gless is a marvel unique to herself. Her engaging, winning persona instantly captures and keeps the audience in thrall. Her Jane Juska is simply someone you want to spend time with. When she strips down to a black leotard at one point, revealing a body not as svelte as when Gless was a gorgeous contract ingénue in the studio system, it is a silent, subtle and courageous announcement by
Gless and Prowse that self-worth should not be tied to an impossible body image. You want to cheer.

Although Gless has done stage work, she has logged most of her career on TV where you only have to perform for a minute or two at a time. So itʼs saying something that she remains inside the character and holds the audience for an uninterrupted hour and a half.

Sheʼs supported by a strong troupe of local actors filling numerous parts, including Stephen G. Anthony and Howard Elfman as various lovers with different hangups; Laura Turnbull as a close friend and Juskaʼs hard-edged mother, and Kim Ostrenko as the imaginary embodiment of Juskaʼs favorite heroine from Anthony Trollopeʼs Victorian romance novel, Miss Mackenzie. Best of all, Antonio Amadeo provides a gallery of characters ranging from Juskaʼs troubled son to a suitor half her age.

Prowse as both playwright and director miraculously nails an elusive tone for Juskaʼs character and the play: self-deprecation but not self-pity, gentle but uninhibited humor, thoughtful without pontificating. This is an adult sex comedy, not adult just because of subject matter and language, but because it has a mature attitude that deals head-on with every question, every cliche, every snide snicker, every challenge that the situation might produce.

As playwright, Prowse has deftly tweaked Juskaʼs episodic memoir into satisfying theater with a dramatic arc. One success is the penultimate scene in which Juska tracks down her estranged son in hopes of a reconciliation. The scene is barely touched upon in the book, but Prowseʼs imagined extrapolation gives the evening the needed push toward the playʼs peaceful coda.

As director, Prowse accents the evening with imaginative staging, especially the sex scenes. In one comic encounter, Amadeo slithers around the stage as a sleazy dancer whose moves echo the coupling under the sheets; the humor defuses the audienceʼs discomfort. In another, Juska stands in a spotlight silently displaying her reactions to the first sex sheʼs had in decades – expressions morphing from fear to surprise to pleasure to nervous laughter to relief.

At its heart, this is not simply a play about societyʼs myopia about sex after sixty. Itʼs a fable about jettisoning your fear and going after the marrow of life.

Piece by piece, Juska discovers enough about herself that she can reconcile and repair portions of her life. As a result, she may or may not have found a man she liked to have sex with by the end of the play, but she has discovered a person she does like – herself.

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