It’s hard to delve into a review of a play with a title as bold and salacious as Apple Hill Playhouse’s latest, Sex Please, We’re Sixty! I mean, just look at that title. Both defiantly declarative and a robust nod to the ageist limitations and prejudices hoisted upon folks of a certain age. Sex Please, We’re Sixty! at once demands “to hell with the norms, we’re sixty and feisty and this is absolutely normal!” while simultaneously announcing “we think this may be uncomfortable for most, so let’s just be cheeky about it to make it more palatable!”
Apple Hill Playhouse’s adaption of Sex Please, We’re Sixty! is consistently funny and engaging—and, thanks to the dedicated earnestness of the cast. Sex Please tells the story of Mrs. Stancliffe (Shirley Ratner), a charmingly neurotic bed and breakfast owner and long-time widow, as she welcomes a unique trio of older female guests to her inn—Charmaine Beauregard (Pam Farneth), Victoria Ambrose (Terri Bowser) and Hillary Hudson (Shelly Spataro). Mrs. Stancliffe’s work life is infinitely complicated by the aggressively sleazy lothario of a neighbor, Bud “Bud the Stud” Davis (Mark Boles), who is convinced Mrs. Stancliffe’s B&B is only so successful because his sexual conquests that woo and entice all the female guests. Too make matters somehow even more harried, Mrs. Stancliffe’s acquaintance, Henry Mitchell (Andy Nesky), is dead-set on wooing Mrs. Stancliffe, and has approached her every day for 20 years with flowers and a request to be her husband. Despite Henry’s overt meagerness in his personal relationships (he gets excited when Mrs. Stancliffe calls him “dear” for the first time in 20 years), he is on the forefront of risqué medical research, and is testing his new medication that enhances the libido and sexual ferocity of menopausal or post-menopausal women. Needless to say, the medication gets loose and the results are as absurd and chaotic as one might expect (but you’ll have to see the show to learn exactly what the results are).
The cast is convincing without being over-the-top, which given the hyperboles imbedded in the script is a feat in and of itself. Every member of the cast contributes their own flair to the screwball story, and their cohesiveness as a cast helps make the limited scope and setting of the show more realistic. Shirley Ratner is thoroughly relatable and touching as the frazzled innkeeper, and her convincingly awkward chemistry with Andy Nesky is a driving force of the show. Nesky is a standout throughout, transforming a character that could easily be fey or obnoxious wonderfully sympathetic and a joy to watch. Pam Farneth as Charmaine also stands out in the excellent ensemble, and her saccharine Charmaine is as hilarious as it is finely executed.
A lot of Sex Please relies on these sorts of contradictory or paradoxical statements about age and sexuality. The trepidations or exaggerated libidos of the characters are purposefully proffered to remind the audience of the inherited misgivings we hold regarding older members of the community having sex. While the original script by Michael Parker and Susan Parker succeeds in reminding the audience that any averse or cringy reaction that they might have is the fault of unforgiving societal norms, it too often relies on the “oh weird, old people being sexual” trope too heavily to the disservice of the actors. Ron Ferrara adroitly coordinates his gifted cast, and navigates through the script with a sensible eye and keen understanding of his actors that is evident throughout the show. Production Manager Tina Lepidi-Stewart and Stage Manager Christine Lamanna demonstrate outstanding precision and dutiful attention to the world of the story, and their fastidiousness (along with the rest of the top-notch crew) expertly capitalize on the intimate space of Apple Hill Playhouse’s cozy converted barn arena.
Sex Please, We’re Sixty is a wholly entertaining evening of theatre, and runs through July 14th. For more information, visit Apple Hillhouse’s site.