Putting the Sex in Sexagenarian


Show #82: Sex Tapes for Seniors, STFS Productions, August 6.


Terry Stokes and Charmaine Hitchcox in Sex Tapes for Seniors. Photo by Kent Taylor Photography

By Sam Hurwitt

The Victoria Theatre has such run-down, old-timey charm that it seems a shame that plays aren’t staged there more often. So it’s a pleasure to return to the compact 1908 vaudeville house in the heart of the Mission to see the new musical Sex Tapes for Seniors, even if the show itself really isn’t very good.

Written, directed and choreographed by recent Bay Area resident Mario Cossa, Sex Tapes for Seniors is pretty much what the name implies: a show about a bunch of retirement home residents who strike upon the idea to make instructional sex videos for their fellow seniors. Oh, and it’s a musical. That’s the sort of thing that’s going to strike people as either fabulous or unpromising right off the bat, and if you reckon that sounds like the greatest thing ever, you may well enjoy it as much as the friends-and-family crowd did opening night. Otherwise you may be in for a long three hours.

Cossa’s script is a clumsy concoction of transparent expository dialogue, limp jokes and a contrived setup that doesn’t give people much motivation to get involved—they’re excited about their little project simply because the play requires them to be. There are a number of times when it seems like the actors are just making meandering small talk to cover a late entrance or flubbed lines, but the way the rest of it’s written it’s hard to tell.

With lyrics by Cossa and music by Tyler Flanders, the songs are occasionally amusing (mostly because of the saucy subject matter) but their meter is overstuffed with clunky lines like, “Relationships, why don’t they teach it in the schools? It’s like no other ship, except maybe the ship of fools.” The lively overture played by a three-piece band led by keyboardists and co-music directors Joshua Raoul Brody and Scrumbly Koldewyn turns out to be the musical high point.

There are two decent songs in the show—although “decent” may not be the most appropriate word: a saucy duet about masturbation called “Amen, Sister!” and a ludicrous “A Rap for Aging Queens” with the refrain “false teeth and fellatio.” A mashup of two duets in completely different styles—one about sex toys, the other about arthritic sex—is amusing despite the fact that the two parts clash more than they mesh. Other than that there’s a song about how refreshing yoga is, a song about forgetful “senior moments,” a couple of syrupy love ballads, an ersatz rock number with air guitar (“Breakin’ the Rules”), a song about kids telling their parents to behave, and a sort of mission statement: “There may be snow on the roof, but there’s fire down below.” It’s pretty hokey stuff, but wins some goodwill and some hoots and hollers with sheer naughtiness.

Joe D’Emilio’s no-frills set sets two apartments side by side in the background with the bare suggestion of two more in the foreground for the many scenes in which all the couples in their respective homes rotate a line or two of dialogue or song—scenes that are particularly slackly paced in Cossa’s staging as each couple waits their turn. Jazmine Carroll’s costumes are so effectively naturalistic that it takes a while to even register that they’re costumes and not street clothes.

The performances are a very mixed bag, ranging from a few vibrant performers doing their best to bring the sketchily drawn characters to life to others who seem like amiable non-actors who should be congratulated for remembering their lines. There are a few strong singers in the cast and a lot of passable ones, but the harmonies for group numbers or couples’ duets are downright unfortunate.

Erin Reis is bright and cheery as young activities coordinator Willow, whose yoga class provides a thin pretext for getting all the seniors together and then is completely forgotten. Willow introduces the story and checks in occasionally with disposable monologues about all the wondrous things she learned from these magic sexagenarians, but for the rest of the play she fades into the background, a character so minor that it seems strange that we’re expected to connect with her when she shows up to talk to us again.

Phillipe Coquet injects a needed dose of energy as Matthew, a former tap dancer and teacher who’s the youngest of the retirees and a seeming stand-in for the author, who talks about writing a musical much like this one. John Hutchinson is endearingly bewildered as Randolph, Matthew’s older longtime partner who hides the fact that he’s rich (a detail that never becomes relevant, except that he’s pretty good at creating a business plan). Terry Stokes and Charmaine Hitchcox have a sweet sort of lived-in chemistry as straight couple John and Deb, whose chief concern seems to be getting their mojo back. Other threads about John being down in the dumps or uncomfortable with gay people, or Deb losing control of the gardening club, don’t amount to anything—nor does the token resistance by busybody Inez (a wooden Marcy Dubova), whose meddling in the first act leaves no trace in the second.

Rebecca Mills and Carolyn Zaremba are generally pleasant ciphers as new couple Gert and Alice—new to the center and in a relatively new relationship—who share some melodramatic scenes about Alice’s dysfunctional phone relationship with her disapproving daughter. Although from the way people talk about her it seems like she’s supposed to be sassier than the modest and slightly dazed presence she exhibits, Nancy Helman Shneiderman makes the case for one being a perfectly respectable number as swinging widow and double divorcee Dottie, despite struggling with a migratory mike headset on opening night. There are other characters, but they’re basically bystanders.

It’s a flimsy premise for a show, and even getting the characters to do the things they do (like all calling their children to say they’re doing a sex video) requires a healthy dollop of suspension of disbelief. But taken as an educational exercise in its own right—hey, old folks have sex lives too—it’s a diverting enough bit of fluff if you’re into that sort of thing.

Sex Tapes for Seniors plays through August 22 at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St., San Francisco. http://stfsproductions.com

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