Missed Matches

18. January, 2010 Theater No comments

Third show of 2010: A Round-Heeled Woman, Z Space at Theater Artaud, January 16.

Ray Reinhardt, Ian Scott McGregor, Sharon Gless and Stephen Macht in A Round-Heeled Woman. Photo by Mark Leialoha

Saturday night I caught Z Space’s world premiere of A Round-Heeled Woman at the company’s new artistic home, Theater Artaud. Based on Berkeley author Jane Juska’s memoir of the same name, Jane Prouse’s play is the story of one 66-year-old woman’s quest to get laid before her 67th birthday, as she hasn’t had sex in 30 years. She places a personals ad in the New York Review of Books, and goes on a series of dates while her two gal pals and a Trollope heroine cheer her on. Former Magic Theatre artistic director Chris Smith directs the cast of six headed by Sharon Gless, probably best known as Cagney from TV’s Cagney & Lacey.

Still shuddering at the memory of Cybill Shepherd in Bobby Goldman’s one-woman show The Curvy Widow two years ago at Post Street Theatre, with a similar premise of a fiftysomething woman’s adventures in internet dating, my wife agreed to accompany me only if I promised that the phrase Shepherd had driven into the ground in that show, “sex site,” would never be uttered.

It was advertised as opening night, but four previews were canceled because of cast illnesses, so the press opening has been pushed back to this coming Saturday, January 23. But Z Space carried on with the opening night festivities this weekend as planned, with author Juska in attendance.

Because the play’s not in my review docket, I stuck with the original opening. Next week is when every other show in town opens, so I don’t know when I’d catch up with this one otherwise. My goal in this space is to write something about every show I see, so here are a few impressions.

The show starts with Gless as Jane in bed having phone sex. “Well, of course I’m alone,” she says. “What, do you think I’d do this in front of an audience?” Seemingly jolted by audience laughter, she stares out at the crowd and tells the guy on the phone she’ll call him back.

It’s a cute icebreaker and sets the tone for the show, which drifts back and forth between patches of direct address as breezy as a standup act, scenes of her dates with various guys, confessional scenes with Jane’s girlfriends or therapists, flashbacks of her difficult relationship with her son, and conversations with the heroine of Anthony Trollope’s 1865 novel Miss Mackenzie. While many of the individual parts are amusing (and the dates are mainly where the action is), they’re awkwardly patched together. The girl talk, therapy and monologue pieces seem to serve the same expository purpose, so it’s not clear why all three are needed. Her estranged son Andy (Ian Scott McGregor) is introduced in a particularly jarring flashback that takes a long time to connect with anything else. Fragments of Jane’s back story go some way toward explaining why it’s been such a long dry spell for her, but their tone feels at odds with the dating story in the foreground.

Even with the caveat that the cast is still working out the kinks, the performances, on the whole, are quite good. Gless has a winning charm that helps smooth over the rough patches. Her Cagney & Lacey love interest Stephen Macht and ACT founding member Ray Reinhardt embody the romantic minefield as a handful of potential lovers that turn her off or turn on her in one way or another. McGregor also tries his luck with her as a bright young man with a Harold and Maude complex, which is more than a little uncomfortable because he also plays her tantrum-prone punk son.

Anne Darragh and Stacy Ross check in regularly as Jane’s two buddies. Darragh also pops up as her stern salt-of-the-earth mother and robotically bland shrink, and Ross is especially diverting as breathless Victorian Margaret Mackenzie. What that character’s doing in the play at all is unclear, aside from the fact that she’s a singleton weighing unpromising matrimonial options and Jane adores Trollope, but it’s always nice to see her anyway.

A lot of amusing scenes and strong performances make for a largely enjoyable 90 minutes without intermission, but  just like Jane in the play, they keep looking for a connection but never quite match up.

A Round-Heeled Woman plays through February 7 at Theater Artaud, 450 Florida St., San Francisco. http://www.zspace.org

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