Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

A Round-Heeled Woman

Also see John's review of Clybourne Park

Howard Elfman, Antonio Amadeo, Sharon Gless and Steven G. Anthony
Gablestage presents Sharon Gless in the Southeastern premiere of A Round-Heeled Woman, based on the true story of Jane Juska. Gless fell in love with Jane Juska's 2003 memoir "A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance" and, with the encouragement of her husband Barney Rosenzweig (who produced "Cagney & Lacey"), she optioned the book as a possible vehicle for herself. She discovered that no one in television, film or the theater seemed interested in mounting a production. "A lot of people got uptight about it," Gless said, "about the idea of an older woman having sexuality." Finally, on a trip to London a few years ago, Gless and her husband had lunch with English playwright Jane Prowse, and they gave her a copy of Juska's book. "We wanted an objective opinion from someone we respected," Gless recalled. Six months later, Jane Prowse called, said she had been busy getting married, but had taken the book on her honeymoon, and absolutely wanted to be the one to turn it into a play. "It's not just about Jane having sex, otherwise it would be porn," Gless said. "It's her entire emotional journey."

Jane Juska is a former high school English teacher who has been celibate for thirty years. She sets out to rectify the situation by placing a personal ad in the New York Review of Books which reads: "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."

The literary-minded Jane refers to Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) who was one of the most successful English novelists of the Victorian era. Some of his collective works, known as "The Chronicles of Barsetshire", revolve around the imaginary county of Barsetshire. He wrote novels on topical political, social and gender issues of his day. Her particular favorite Trollope novel is "Miss Mackenzie." whose romanticized heroine, Margaret Mackenzie, is one with whom she identifies. Unfortunately, many of those responding to her advertisement confuse the author Trollope with the word trollop—defined by Merriam-Webster as "a vulgar or disreputable woman; especially: one who engages in sex promiscuously or for money." Among the many adjectives that coincide with such a female is the term "a round-heeled woman," and it is from this phrase that the show takes its title.

Jane's journey is not an easy one. She has mixed support from her friends, who wish her the best but are concerned for her safety as she meets the men who respond to her ad. The men come in many forms—some too young, too old, too unavailable, too insensitive. Jane may be hurt along the way, but she proceeds tenaciously with heart in hand as though looking for the prince to fit her slipper. In all fairness, she is not a woman desperately seeking love, she is a woman seeking herself, and so the story is inevitably engaging and exciting.

Supporting actors Howard Elfman, Steven G. Anthony, Laura Turnbull, Kim Ostrenko and Antonio Amadeo are certainly deserving of acknowledgement for rapid changes in costumes and accents. Not all of the characters are achieved with the same amount of skill, however, and one particular dance sequence featuring Antonio Amadeo comes off as kind of creepy. His leer is both over-the-top lurid and comic—never committing to either one. He redeems himself with a warm portrayal of Graham, however. Set designer Lyle Baskin has made amazing use of the space with graduated levels that effectively serve all the needs of the show.

A Round-Heeled Woman is a production blessed by the right author, the right director and the right actress. Calling it luck would be incredibly naïve. Gless found a well-written book with which she connected, and found the creative team to make her (and Juska's) vision a reality on stage. As Jane she never leaves stage, but then we never really want her to leave. She shows enough variety of emotions, believability as the character, and skill as an actress to own the show even if there were no other actors in it. She also manages to handle the more risqué sections with enough control and class such that, what could be merely crass and sexual is human and relatable. Her stand-out performance is one of the best seen in south Florida for some time.

Gless is probably best known for her television roles in the drama series "Cagney & Lacey" (1982–1988), the Showtime cable television series "Queer as Folk (2000–2005), and the current Miami based series "Burn Notice." Among her acting awards are four Emmy Nominations (two wins), two Golden Globe nominations (one win and one tie), and four Q Awards.

A Round-Heeled Woman will be appearing at The GableStage through January 30, 2011. The GableStage is located in the eastern section of the Biltmore Hotel, at 1200 Anastasia Avenue, in Coral Gables, Florida. Valet parking is available, or free parking is available in the Biltmore parking area west of the hotel. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and information you may reach them at 305-445-1119 or online at The GableStage, formerly known as the Florida Shakespeare Theatre, is a professional theatre presenting classic and contemporary theatre year round. They are members of the Theatre League of South Florida, the Florida Cultural Alliance, the Theatre Communications Group, and the Dade Cultural Alliance. The GableStage hires local and non-local Equity and non-union actors and actresses, and is involved with the educational community in promoting educational theatre programs.

Jane Juska: Sharon Gless*
Nathalie, Miss Margaret Mackenzie, Stripper: Kim Ostrenko*
Celia, Jane's Mother, Housekeeper, Cabbie, Librarian: Laura Turnbull*
Lone Party Man, Eddie, Jane's Father, Robert, Mr. Maguire, John: Steven G. Anthony*
Party Woman, Waiter, Jonah, Mr. Rubb, Sidney: Howard Elfman*
Dance teacher, Andy, John Ball, Graham: Antonio Amadeo*

Director: Jane Prowse
Choreography: Dave Campbell
Scenic Design: Lyle Baskin
Lighting Design: Jeff Quinn
Sound Design: Matt Corey
Costume Design: Ellis Tillman
Stage Manager: Kristen Pieski*

*Indicates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.

Photo: George Schiavone

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere