Michael Bush’s production of Cactus Flower, now playing at Westside Theatre Upstairs, is a sweet throwback to the 1960s, a time in which Abe Burrows’ script must have seemed more original and unpredictable than it currently does.
The slightly dopey plot follows Julian Winston (Maxwell Caulfield), a middle-aged, attractive Park Avenue dentist, who comes up with the idea of telling his much younger girlfriend Toni (doe-eyed Jenni Barber) that he is married, hoping to subdue any of her own thoughts of tying-the-knot. When Toni demands to meet his wife, Julian enlists his stiff nurse, Stephanie (Lois Robbins), to play the part.
Caulfield gives Julian a dashingly suave persona, and is perfectly suited to the role of the flirtatious dentist. As Stephanie, Robbins is unyielding — practically to a fault — and makes it difficult to root for the character. Barber — adorable as she may be — is stuck in a meatless, one-note role as the ditzy blonde.
The supporting cast provides much of the comedy, including John Herrera as Senor Sanchez, whose every mannerism and bit of dialogue are hysterical. Robin Skye’s Mrs. Durant, an older patient of Dr. Winston’s, is sassy and sexy, with just the right amount of inappropriateness. Anthony Reimer plays another goofy patient of the unctuous dentist, and joins the action with great physical humor and inanity at every turn.
The biggest treat of this production comes from Anna Louizos’ retro, multi-purpose set, with bright boxes of color adorning every bit of the stage, right down to the tiled floor. Karen Ann Ledger’s costumes would make anyone drool for the decade in which orange stripes, fluorescent colors, and electric blue dresses were the norm when it came to fashion. What could have been empty moments during set changes are joyful due to Brad Berridge’s sound design, as audiences will find themselves grooving to hits from the era such as “What the World Needs Now” and “Downtown.”
Still, nothing really makes up for the monotony of the play, which is greatly in need of cutting from its two-and-a-half-hour run time. Audiences must endure tons of prolonged dialogue before an obvious conclusion in which the “right” couples are paired off. (And despite Stephanie’s knowledge of Julian’s deception and sleaziness, she gets her happy ending in being with him.) This Flower, like its characters, simply takes far too long to bloom.