NEW YORK — At 68, Bobby Goldman has found herself in the unexpected position of recommending adult toys to strangers.
She has written the book for the new musical, “Curvy Widow,” based on her experiences in the post-bereavement dating pool, at the Westside Theater. In it, the character of Bobby grapples with being single in her 60s (incognito trips to buy condoms) in today’s landscape (casually sent graphic photos).
The play’s frank talk about sex during one’s later years invites audience members to share their own laughs and frustrations, as Goldman explained during a trip to Babeland, a sex-toy shop in Manhattan, last month.
“I thought I was writing a funny little sex show. I had no idea people were going to come to me with tears in their eyes,” she said. To one woman who confessed her fear of sex, Goldman recounted telling her, “You need a good gynecologist, and you need a vibrator.”
Eyeing one apparatus at the store that looked like a spineless cactus, she said, “It’s going to fall out or do something peculiar.”
Goldman was married to the playwright and screenwriter James Goldman, who won an Oscar for “The Lion in Winter.” His death in 1998 flattened her. Her therapist’s advice? Have sex, as his character recommends in the show.
After a frustrating year on Match.com — “The type of man who’s on it and of a certain age shouldn’t be on anything,” Goldman said — she stumbled upon Ashley Madison, the site specializing in extramarital encounters. Her profile, with the handle “Curvy Widow,” netted more than 100 responses on the first night.
A friend at Random House urged her to chronicle her adventures. “They said, ‘What are you doing since Jim is dead?’ and I said, ‘I’m dating a lot of wealthy, successful, married men from a sex site.’ They thought it was funny, and next thing I know I’m writing it,” she said.
During the talkback after that afternoon’s matinee, the audience was largely older and female. “I liked the message that it’s OK to be independent,” one woman said.
“I had a construction company; my clients were mostly men,” Goldman replied. “Since ‘Curvy,’ I’ve developed girlfriends. For the first time, I have girl lunches and girl brunches. It’s been terrific. I love men deeply, but they’re simple folk.”
The female audience members murmured in agreement.
“Women are strategic,” Goldman went on. “We will stay up, watch them breathe and look for kitchen knives.”
They laughed — hard.
Drew Brody, who wrote the music and lyrics for “Curvy Widow,” recalled in an interview that he had been looking for new collaborators when he heard about Goldman. “Aaron Lustbader, who’s now the general manager of the show, said to me, ‘I have someone interesting for you to meet,’ which was the understatement of the century,” Brody said.
“For the first time in musical theater history, we had to make a character smaller for the stage,” he added.
Goldman sent Brody a manuscript of “Curvy Widow” as a writing sample. “I called her and said, ‘You know this is a musical, right?’” he said. “She hung up on me.”
Eventually he convinced her. “These stories are not being told, about older women being allowed to have a sexual appetite.”
Nancy Opel, who plays Bobby in the show — bedding the male ensemble, wrestling with a hormone ring and singing a ballad from a bathroom floor — said by phone that she was drawn to the idea of “a woman of a certain age who’s actually embarking on romance.”
“Nobody writes shows about 50-, 60-year-old women, unless they’re crazy or terrible or drunk,” Opel said.
As in the musical, Goldman sold the penthouse she had shared with her husband and moved to a Midtown loft. In her previous life, she prepared six formal dinners a week for the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Sean Connery. “This morning I had Cheetos,” she said.
The rare night she’s not at the theater or with a date, she watches MSNBC, “Law & Order” or anything with Vin Diesel in it.
These days, Goldman is dating six men, five married, one separated. “It’s a nice number,” she said in a cab downtown after the talkback. “They can’t see you very often. It works out to about one date a week.”
Married men, she says, are more compatible with her lifestyle. She doesn’t bother herself with moral implications.
“I care for them, but I’m very pragmatic,” she said later at Nomo Kitchen, as she wolfed down the cacio e pepe. “You’re married; I’m not looking to do anything other than have an enjoyable evening with you. I don’t text you. I don’t call you. That would be wrong.”
These relationships are not just about sex, she clarified. “I was injured nine months ago, and I couldn’t walk. Every single one of them showed up to my house and made sure there was food in the refrigerator. Men want to take care.”
While she does occasionally date single men, widowers are too eager for old patterns.”They don’t want to be alone, and they don’t know how to do laundry. I tell them I don’t know how to do laundry either.”
She sipped a Campari and soda. “I don’t want to give up what I have,” she continued. “A lot of women in their 50s and 60s don’t want to remarry, and part of that is men don’t share. I think I was a great wife because I did everything in the world for him. I lost myself completely.”
Now she does not shrink from being center stage in her own life.
“Men can be very fragile, and they like to be important,” she had said earlier that afternoon. Once, in Peter Luger’s, a restaurant she frequents, the wait staff sent over a bottle of Champagne. “My date looked at me and said, ‘You certainly don’t need me,’ and walked out. If you’re going out with me, you have to enjoy me.”
The waiter at Nomo Kitchen brought a flatbread, the cacio e pepe being too dainty a portion. “I’m at a point where it’s confidence,” she said of having sex now with several partners. “I expect to have a good time, and I usually do.”
And to any and all who might listen, she added, “And stop telling me I can’t have it after 50.”