Growing old. The joys of masturbation. Looming mortality. Spicing up one’s sex life. Finding a new purpose in one’s later years. All are topics — and the subjects of some catchy tunes — in the new musical “Sex Tapes for Seniors” by Mario Cossa, playing this month at the Victoria Theater in San Francisco.
The story takes place at Shambhala Springs, a retirement home with a progressive bent, with four older couples entering their twilight years. There’s the stoic Randolf (John Hutchinson) and firebrand Matthew (Phillipe Coquet), the older gay couple. Dottie (Nancy Helman Shneiderman), a gregarious and big-hearted widow and divorcée. Alice (Carolyn Zaremba) and Gert (Rebecca Mills), a pair of aging lesbians who get the lion’s share of interpersonal conflict. And finally Deb (Charmaine Hitchcox) and John (Terry Stokes), the straight couple still youthful at heart but beginning to feel downsides of aging bodies and minds.
The couples bond over coffee after meeting at a senior Yoga class taught by the 20-something (and young-person-surrogate for the folks in the audience who have yet to see a grey hair) Willow (Erin Reis). Surprised to find common ground in keeping up an active sex life, the seven (with Willow along for the ride) decide to create an informational video about sexual practices and the older couple, each pair tackling a subject they themselves have had trouble with.
One of the strongest points of “Sex Tapes for Seniors” is how well each pair of characters is realized, each with their own hang-ups and foibles that they work through as the play progresses. The only one who falls by the wayside is Reis’s Willow, who (though sharing some wonderful scenes with Dottie) functions more as a interstitial narrator than a fully realized character. Her background is explained, but never explored, making her stand out as something of an enigma among the pantheon of warm, complex, and likable couples.
Overall, the play is raunchy, risque and bold, but never loses its sense of mischievous fun, making it an enjoyable romp through the trials of getting older and adult sexuality. The heavier elements such as family drama and looming mortality occasionally rear their ugly heads (as indeed they must), but are resolved to satisfaction and poignancy. The occasional swerves of mood can be sharp at times, but are forgivable as they arise naturally from the subject matter.
But most welcome was the overarching theme of the older couples recognizing that the most important thing in their lives are the partners they’re with, and that, even with their children and the retirement home gossip mongers against them, the project has the potential to re-energize them and bring them closer to the people they love.
Friday’s show was not without its road bumps; technical hiccups, some uneven musical performances and one or two flubbed lines, but the rough patches never spoiled my enjoyment of the show. In the end, ”Sex Tapes for Seniors” remains a vibrant and joyful expression of growing old but still taking pleasure in life (and each other) with youthful enthusiasm.