Thursday, March 10, 2011

THEATER: Cactus Flower

Photo/Carol Rosegg
Stephanie Dickinson (Lois Robbins) is a prickly nurse, which is to be expected: for years she's been reduced to nothing more than a potted fixture beside her boss, Dr. Julian Winston (Maxwell Caulfield), a dashing dentist with a penchant for "drilling" the ladies. In fact, she's a lot like the cactus she keeps at her desk, and if you can't guess by the title of the play -- Cactus Flower -- or the far-from-subtle hints playwright Abe Burrows keeps dropping, even dour Ms. Dickinson will eventually blossom. However, the same can't be said for the rest of this production, a choked and clumsy affair aridly directed by Michael Bush, a man with one too many screws loose in this altogether forgettable screwball comedy.

Here's the plot: Winston has been sleeping with the adorably high-pitched Toni Simmons (Jenni Barber) for the last year. But she, wanting more, attempts suicide -- she is saved by her nerdy neighbor Igor Sullivan (Jeremy Bobb) -- which leads Winston to realize how much he loves her after all. This, however, is a problem, since to avoid a clingy relationship, he's been pretending that he's already married, and the one thing Toni hates is a lie. Enter Ms. Dickinson -- now masquerading as Mrs. Winston -- and cue the complications, like Harvey Greenfield (Anthony Reimer), a lecherous college friend of Winston's who is hired to be the other man in this "unhappy" marriage. Except it's not all that complicated at all: in an orderly and easily resolved fashion, Burrows introduces one-note characters like Senor Arturo Sanchez (John Herrera), an unctuous diplomat with the hots for an uninterested Ms. Dickinson, and Botticelli's Springtime (Emily Walton), the sort of witless floozy who falls for someone as sleazy as Harvey. Each enters, cracks bad jokes, and leaves, leaving no ripples in their wake, just wasted time and opportunity . . . unless, of course, you thought the only thing missing from this travesty of a play was a rich older woman (Robin Skye) flirting with her dentist.

For a show whose main character is a dentist, Cactus Flower has surprisingly few teeth, and Caulfield's utterly ungrounded performance doesn't help matters. Manic from the first moment we meet him, and many decibels above the rest of the cast, it's hard to take him seriously: he doesn't pivot from tactic to tactic so much as he bullishly charges with every line. Then again, at least he's consistently bad; Robbins, who should be the sharp spark at the center of the play, appears convinced that changing her clothes is enough to transform on stage; she gets more lines toward the end of the play, as she gives her boss the ol' what-for, but she delivers them in a half-hearted "What for?" In this way, the performances resemble Anna Louizos's bland set, which attempts to multitask the same bedroom backdrop for scenes that occur in the doctor's office, a cocktail bar, and record store: it all disconcertingly blends together, as if none of it matters.

One "witty" exchange in the play goes as follows: "I'm an actor." "Isn't acting an insecure position?" "Only financially." In the case of this shriveled Cactus Flower -- $75 a ticket -- it's safe to say that the acting's far more insecure than the money going into it.

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