Cactus Flower April 16th, ’11

Yes, another play I already knew because I saw the movie. I know. I could’ve been more original, it’s broadway after all – or off-broadway as it is. But the movie with Walther Matthau, Ingrid Bergman and Goldie Hawn was fun, and Maxwell Caulfield was playing dentist Julian,  so I just had to 😉 …

Unfortunately my front row ticket was useless as a wiring problem caused the backstage lights to fail and – the performance had to be cancelled. It did help that Caulfield came on stage with an apologetic smile and said we’d have to reschedule this dentist’s appointment due to electricity trouble. He indeed possesses considerable charm!

So I did a bit of improvising and came back the next day with a new ticket, ditching Ben Stiller’s House of Blue Leaves in the process – and it was the right decision – the play, the actors – a cute little comedy about love and life and a considerable midlife crisis was taking place on the small stage of the Westside Theatre Upstairs, perfectly executed and delivered with flourish and joy – all conspired to produce a fun night out. The set, as it turned out, consisted mostly of different colored boxes that were lit to be the apartment, the dentist’s rooms or the bar. (Which was why they weren’t able to do the show the day before) and were cleverly arranged and indeed enough of a “hint” to illustrate various places.

The plot: Charming Julian is a rich single dentist who doesn’t want committment – which is why he tells all his girlfriends that he is married. This works until he meets Toni (Jenni Barber), a big eyed, sweet naive girl with a  heart too big for her own good who doesn’t mind being his affair. Everything works out perfectly until a writer, Jack Weston, moves in next door to Toni and saves her from half heartedly committing suicide because Julian had – again – left her alone; this time at their one year anniversary. Toni arranges that Jack contacts Julian to tell him that she is “still alive”, as she’d written a good bye letter to her lover. But poor Jack is brushed off on the phone by Julian’s efficient but prickly nurse Stephanie. Therefore Julian gets the letter and rushes to Toni’s rescue – only to find her, much to his chagrin, in a friendly conversation with Jack – or is it just friendly? Torn apart by jealousy Julian decides to marry Toni – but then there is his wife, as Toni points out. Piling one lie upon another, Julian now claims his “wife” wants a divorce anyway and wouldn’t be hurt by their separation. But – Toni insists on meeting the non existent woman.

Therefore Julian, not ready to set things straight, talks Stephanie into playing his wife. She, secretly harbouring feelings for the immature but charming doctor, finally agrees and plays the part too god. Now Toni doesn’t want to set her own happiness before that of Stephanie. Slapstick and comedy ensues until finally the fitting lovers come together.

Now this comedy was “born” in the sixties and had a rather revolutionary novel concept then: an unmarried girl agrees to an illicit affair with a married man,  doesn’t mind being the mistress and still is a loveable character. This could have led to a rather drab adaption, but we lucked out: Max Caulfield – who’s really rather charming 😉 – has enough comedic timing to pull his suave flirty character off without seeming like an ass, Jenni Barber as Toni is a hoot as the naive, sweet gullible girl in search of her place in life and in love. And Lois Robbins as Stephanie is absolutely brilliant as the “Cactus”, the woman in the background who knows that without her the practice wouldn’t be running at all. Doing the jealousy game herself too, she finally gets her reward – a “reformed” Julian who got wise at last. The three play off of each other with considerable fun and give the dusty play a brilliant new shine.

Only drawback: the torrential rains of the fringes of the tornado kept me from waiting at the stage door. I have to manage to get an autograph from Max Caulfield – he was really superb!

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