When Jane Juska found herself alone, living for her daily glass of wine and with nothing to lose at the age of 66, she found a hobby. Dating. And lots of it.
Placing an ad in the New York Times Review of Books – clearly this was before the days of Guardian Soulmates, or Craig’s List in this over-the-pond case – Juska asked for a man willing to have lots of sex with her before she turned 67, adding “If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.” Her only three rules being: no married men, no Republicans and no kinky sex.
While Jane Prowse’s adaptation of the true story may be rather more Joanna Trollope than the aforementioned Anthony Trollope, Sharon Gless in the lead role gives the play gravitas with her believable portrayal of the enormously likeable Juska. From the very first date with her take on When Harry Met Sally’s infamous scene, you’re rooting for her to overcome her doubting, concerned friends’ worries.
It’s not often you get to use the word spunky, but this is exactly what Juska is. Strident and seemingly fearless, her desire to find a lover after 30 years without being touched is both moving and admirable. Her sometimes crushing vulnerability is always overcome with witty comebacks, and her opinionated, liberal ways make her far younger than her years.
But Juska is no saint, and a history that slowly reveals itself to have included alcohol dependency and failed motherhood transforms what could be verging on the trashy into something more substantial. Flashbacks of Juska humiliating her son, taking her late father to strip clubs and learning her dangerously limited sex education from her own overpowering mother reveal more about Juska than any of her encounters.
While you may find yourself cringing at some of Juska’s intimate moments with gentlemen favouring less than conventional wooing styles – surely being asked to put your breasts on the table is not normal behaviour? – A Round-Heeled Woman makes you ashamed of any ageist thoughts you may have been having prior to entering the theatre. Juska may be about to turn 67 but the problems she faces are the same problems 20-somethings have been moaning about in sitcoms for years. Rejection still stings and scumbags are still creeps in their 80s.
Breaking the third wall, the house lights frequently come up as Gless turns to talk to us directly, and these truthful moments, when Prowse’s often over-the-top comical direction stops, are more intimate than any sex scene.