Monday, March 14, 2011

Cactus Flower

Describing a play as dated is usually a putdown, but the Off-Broadway revival of Abe Burrows' Cactus Flower is dated in the best sense of the word. It’s a shimmering romp back in time to my favorite decade, the 1960s. I loved every moment of it.

The time travel begins as soon as you enter the Westside Theatre/Upstairs. Anna Louizos’ sets capture the energy and modern look of the era -- shining color block panels rise above rooms that transition smoothly with the scenes, from a small Manhattan apartment, to a dentist’s office and a nightclub. The New York skyline hovers over it all.

The story is light and breezy, and even if you’ve never seen it before you’ll know exactly where it’s going from the start, which doesn’t matter at all because getting there is so much fun. Director Michael Bush and the cast with its superb timing make the two and a half hours fly by.

The plot is typical of romantic comedies of the Doris Day/Rock Hudson sensibilities. Julian Winston (Maxwell Caulfield, left in photo), a handsome, middle-aged Park Avenue dentist and determined bachelor, has found the perfect way to dodge commitment -- he tells his much younger girlfriend, Toni Simmons (Jenni Barber, center), that he’s married.

This arrangement works just fine for him until he decides he really loves Toni and wants to marry her. Only problem is the kindhearted Toni wants to meet his wife to make sure she’s OK with the “divorce.” Needing a quick, temporary wife, Julian talks his sharp-tongued and efficient nurse, Stephanie Dickinson (Lois Robbins, right), into playing the part and the real farce begins.

All three are excellent, as is Jeremy Bobb as Toni’s neighbor Igor Sullivan and the supporting cast: Anthony Reimer, John Herrera and Emily Walton.

Greatly enhancing my enjoyment of the show was the inclusion of 60s hits played during set changes, on the radios in some scenes and at the nightclub. I knew every song and really flipped when I heard “Red Rubber Ball” by The Cyrkle. That’s one that I never hear on oldies stations. It was on my first LP. (Remember when we called them LPs?)

The mood -- and my good memories -- were furthered by Karen Ann Ledger’s costumes, those bright and bold -- and short! -- clothes we used to wear. I loved my rainbow mini dress and loved Toni’s too. And I also had a Twiggy haircut. Ah, the 60s!

Philip Rosenberg’s lighting and Brad Berridge’s sound design round out the atmosphere. I left the theatre feeling happy and younger.

Cactus Flower premiered on Broadway in December 1965, starring Lauren Bacall, and was one of the biggest hits of the decade. It was made into a movie in 1969 with Goldie Hawn, Walter Matthau and Ingrid Bergman, and earned Goldie the Oscar for best supporting actress.

Tickets are available from, by calling (212) 239-6200, or in person at the Westside Theatre box office, 407 W. 43rd St. For more information visit

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