Cactus Flower, the farce written by Abe Burrows, blossomed in the 1960s. With Lauren Bacall in its original cast, the play had a successful run on Broadway before it was adopted into the1969 Gene Saks film by the same name, which earned Goldie Hawn an Oscar for her breakout performance.
Today, March 10, marks the comedy’s return to the New York City stage and its first major revival, with the official opening of a production at the Westside Theatre Upstairs, 407 West 43rd Street.
Directed by Michael Bush, Cactus Flower intertwines the kooky personalities of several New Yorkers, with spot-on comedic timing and far-out situations that somehow become more believable throughout the play.
Julian Winston, played by theater veteran Maxwell Caulfield (Grease 2), is the successful Park Avenue cad who wants to remain a bachelor as long as possible. To ensure this, he falsifies an entire marriage and children to his 21-year-old girlfriend Toni (Jenni Barber). When this backfires with Toni’s suicide attempt, Julian is forced to produce said wife in order to marry Toni without admitting to the lie.
The role of Julian’s wife is forced on his longtime secretary Miss Stephanie Dickinson (played by soap opera regular Lois Robbins), a quick-witted “old maid” whose personality gets compared to that of a cactus. As the lies get hilariously more elaborate (someone even gets called a nymphomaniac at some point), the more the characters reveal who they are and what they want.
Sound vaguely familiar? It’s because the recent Adam Sandler blockbuster, Just Go With It, does what Hollywood does best recently—recycle classic stories into crappier, but sometimes adequate, versions of the original.
This Westside Theatre production, however, is a solid revival—with a sleek and easily transformable set design, and a seasoned cast enhanced by lively chemistry and strong on-stage presence. In fact, the dialogue was so well delivered that I expected a laugh track to come on for half of the play.
Yes, Cactus Flower is dated and clearly from the ‘60s, but therein lies a lot of its appeal—a harkening back to an era when a brand new record cost $3, you tapped your foot to R&B and rock classics, and laughs roared from a familiar style of situational comedy and a steady string of well-placed quips.
The complete cast of Cactus Flower also includes Anthony Reimer (Harvey Greenfield), John Herrera (Señor Arturo Sanchez), Robin Skye (Mrs. Dixon Durant), Jeremy Bobb (Igor Sullivan) and Emily Walton (Botticelli’s Springtime).
The play’s creative team includes Anna Louizos (Scenic Design), Philip Rosenberg (Lighting Design), Karen Ann Ledger (Costume Design) and Brad Berridge (Sound Design).
Photos, by Carol Rosegg, from top:
Maxwell Caulfield, Jenni Barber and Lois Robbins
Maxwell Caulfield and Lois Robbins
Lois Robbins and Jenni Barber
Maxwell Caulfield, Jenni Barber, Lois Robbins and Anthony Reimer
Westside Theatre Upstairs
407 West 43rd Street
Tickets cost $75 and are available through Telecharge.com, at 212-239-6200, or in person at the theatre box office.