Round-heeled woman of unrealized potential 

When Jane Juska was 66, she placed a personal ad in the New York Review of Books: “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 memoir that followed, titled “A Round-Heeled Woman,” recounted her adventures in funny, forthright and provocative detail. In the right hands, those qualities might have made a winning theater piece. But Juska’s story deserves a better adaptation than the flat-footed Z Space production that made its world premiere last weekend after a week-long delay.

Despite TV star Sharon Gless in the title role, the 90-minute play generates little of the heat — or rewards — of its source material.

Jane Prowse’s script follows the outline of Juska’s book, about a divorced English lit teacher who finds herself, after 30 years of celibacy, with a strong desire to get back in the game.

As she observes at the start of the play, women her age outnumber men three to one: she doesn’t have time to waste, so she writes an ad that gets right to the point.

To her surprise — and the alarm of her girlfriends (smartly played by Anne Darragh and Stacy Ross) — it also gets results. Jane receives replies from men around the country, all clamoring to meet her.

Three actors — Stephen Macht, Ray Reinhardt and Ian Scott McGregor — assume the parade of men’s roles.

Chris Smith stages the action briskly, with scenes framed by a few set pieces — beds, tables, bookshelves — reconfigured to suggest hotel rooms, cafes and libraries.

But the director hasn’t found a consistent tone for the play, and successive scenes veer between comic absurdity and over-the-top melodrama.

Jane’s encounters with her estranged son, Andy (McGregor) are especially heavy-handed; the addition of a character from Trollope’s “Miss McKenzie” (Ross as Margaret) is an interesting device, but one that ultimately clutters the narrative.

Gless doesn’t help matters much. As Jane, the former “Cagney and Lacey” star is an affable presence, but not a particularly agile one; her dramatic range proves limited and her gravelly voice rarely departs from a monotone.

“A Round-Heeled Woman” excels in several small vignettes — Darragh doubles as Jane’s mother and therapist; Ross shines as a stripper and sullen cab driver — and yields one or two touching moments: Jane’s eventual reunion with Andy is played with genuine feeling, and Gless delivers a few well-chosen words of wisdom about seizing life’s opportunities.

In the end the show leaves you with the disappointing sense of a blind date — one that looked good on paper, but didn’t amount to much in the flesh.

THEATER REVIEW

A Round-Heeled Woman

Presented by Z Space

Where: Theater Artaud, 450 Florida St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 7
Tickets: $20 to $50
Contact: (800) 838-3006; www.zspace.org

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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