Why is it so hard to develop a decent script? Show after show goes up in which the script is a mess. That’s certainly the case with Talking Sex on Sunday.
Sara-Jeanne Hosie wrote the book and lyrics for this musical and Shawn Macdonald acted as dramaturg.
They start out with a promising premise. Margot and her female friends have themed get-togethers on the first Sunday of every month. Margot’s sex life with her husband Ted is on the skids so she decides to throw a sex-toy party. Here we go!
But nothing happens in Act 1. Odessa, the salesperson from Sweet Vibrations pitches vibrators to Margot and her pals, but the script wanders as the characters speak vaguely — and coyly — about sex. When Frankie, who’s lesbian, is about to sing the lyric “Sit on my face”, the others interrupt her before she can complete the phrase — which is, I think, supposed to be hilarious and naughty. And none of these adult women is able to say “vulva” or “vagina”, although “clitoris” is uttered on a few occasions. Mostly, though, they talk about “the little man in the boat” or “the lady in the valley.” The overall tone is juvenile.
Most damagingly, there’s zero narrative tension in Act 1. In another set-up, we see Margot’s sister Olivia in her apartment, where she is conducting an affair with a married man. You don’t need a compass to figure out where this is going, but the predictable conflict doesn’t become explicit until well into Act 2 so, until then, we watch nothing happen. And the act break, which should come at a point of crisis, is flat. There’s no cliff hanger; the performers just sing a little louder and that’s our excuse to go to the lobby and get a drink.
Act 2 is better. Because Olivia is finally at Margot’s party with the other characters, the two worlds of the play converge, the conflict emerges and, at long last, there’s a story. Besides, Jennifer Lines, who’s playing Olivia, is a wildly charismatic performer. She’s got more to do in Act 2 and her presence is energizing.
But the script continues to make goofy mistakes. The central conflict involves a huge betrayal, which you may have figured out by now. If you haven’t, let’s just say that it involves behaviour that is flat-out unforgivable — at least in the short term — so it’s not like the book is dealing in complexities or even a credible range of possibilities. And everything gets wrapped up far too easily. Margot, who has suffered a trauma that would be life-shattering in reality, does a dumb-ass version of gestalt therapy and finds a happy ending in a matter of minutes.
Fortunately, the songs, especially the music, which Hosie wrote with Nico Rhodes, are much, much better than the book. Margot’s musical voice is jazz-inflected, chatty, and urbane. The way she sings, it sounds like her broader circle of friends might include the characters from Stephen Sondheim’s Company. And there’s pleasure to be had in the buoyancy of songs like “The G-Spot Tango” and in the syncopation — and resilience — of “Carpe Diem”.
It’s also important to acknowledge that there’s a whole lot of talent onstage. Despite the shaky material, both Janet Gigliotti as Margot and Lines as Olivia deliver excellent performances. I’ve never seen such depth from Gigliotti and Lines could teach classes in emotional crumpling. I also particularly enjoyed the cut-out-like clarity of Sara Vickruck’s Frankie.
But, man, Talking Sex on Sunday really, really needs a stronger book.
TALKING SEX ON SUNDAY Book and lyrics by Sara-Jeanne Hosie. Music by Sara-Jeanne Hosie and Nico Rhodes. Directed by Donna Spencer. A Firehall Arts Centre production at the Firehall Arts Centre on Wednesday, February 19. Continues until March 8. Tickets.
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