Oscar E Moore

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Cactus Flower – An Off B’way Fizzler

March 13th, 2011 by Oscar E Moore

The many musical selections of 60’s hits chosen by director Michael Bush that either aid the many clunky scene changes, introduce a scene or comment upon a scene – which include “What The World Needs Now” (is love sweet love), “These Boots Are Gonna Walk All Over You”, “Help!” And “I Got You Babe” in the revival of the Abe Burrows comedy based on a French farce by Barillet & Gredy “Cactus Flower” while nice to hear, hit you over the head with sledgehammer force as to what is going on and interfere with the natural rhythm of the comedy.  Let the comedy speak for itself, however dated it is.

In order for this farce to work the characters have to be believable and believe in what they are saying and must have great comic timing which seems to be abundantly absent here.  

We never believe that two women – the spinsterish dental receptionist to Dr. Julian Winston (Maxwell Caulfield), Stephanie Dickinson (Lois Robbins) and his young mistress Toni Simmons (Jenni Barber) could be so infatuated with the lying lothario Dr. Winston.

Nor do we believe that Toni remotely likes her next door neighbor, a beat-nik writer Igor Sullivan (a bland Jeremy Bobb) who initially saves her from her attempted suicide (by over cooking her chicken cacciatore and leaving on the gas.)

Dr. Winston has told Toni that he is married in order not to marry her, but after her attempted suicide he changes his mind – and promises to divorce his wife.  Only Toni wants to meet the wife who doesn’t exist and so he enlists his receptionist into portraying his wife which leads to all sorts of supposed comical situations.  Which here, rarely pay off.

Mr. Caulfield looks like a bored, stilted, posturing John Wayne instead of the charmer that should charm these two women and us into believing him.

Unfortunately, Ms. Barber has been coaxed into believing that she should follow in the footsteps of Goldie Hawn who won an Oscar for her cinematic portrayal.  Maybe she should have been told that Brenda Vaccaro originated the role and is nothing like Goldie but also extremely funny.  Or perhaps she should have made the role her own.

Lauren Bacall was the original Stephanie and most probably kept the show running with her star power back in the 60’s along with the really charming Barry Sullivan and Ms. Vaccaro.  Lois Robbins has none of the sarcasm and irony that make the lines of this farce sparkle.  Instead of the effervescence of champagne we get the fizzle of a flat bottle of beer.  She does however, by plays end, blossom as does the cactus plant that she keeps on her desk.

The jokes are punctuated with an almost audible ba-da-boom! which only accentuate the most heavy handed line readings as though no one would get their effect without such emphasis.

The cast includes some one dimensional stereo-typical characters:  a hyper sexed older woman Mrs. Durant (an almost embarrassing Robin Skye) a married Cuban diplomat Senor Sanchez (John Herrera) pursuing the receptionist and an obnoxious actor, Harvey Greenfield (Anthony Reimer) whose girl friend Botticelli’s Springtime (honest, that’s her name) played by Emily Walton, needs dental work. 

Perhaps this all worked in Albany last year at the Capital Repertory Theatre where Mr. Bush was producer and director.  Not in Manhattan.  Instead of what could be 14 Karat gold we get 24 Karat lead.

At the Westside Theatre Upstairs.   www.cactusfloweronstage.com  Photo:  Carol Rosegg

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