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Abe Burrows' "Cactus Flower" is Revived at Westside Theatre/Upstairs
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Abe Burrows' "Cactus Flower" is Revived at Westside Theatre/Upstairs

- Backstage with the Playwrights

The New Yorker Hotel
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481 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10001
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Daryl Roth Productions and Stonemill Productions

Cactus Flower
(Show Website)
Westside Theatre/Upstairs
407 West 43rd Street

By Abe Burrows
Directed by Michael Bush

Starring: Maxwell Caulfield, Lois Robbins, Jenni Barber

With: Jeremy Bobb, John Herrera, Anthony Reimer,
Robin Skye, Emily Walton

Scenic Design: Anna Louizos
Costume Design: Karen Ann Ledger
Lighting Design: Philip Rosenberg
Sound Design: Brad Berridge
Wig Design: Edward J. Wilson
Casting: Stephanie Klapper
General Manager: DR Theatrical Management
Production Manager: Gregg Bellon/Prod. Consolidated
Production Stage Manager: Rebecca Goldstein-Glaze
Press: O&M Co.
Marketing & Advertising: aka
Assoc. Producer: Alexander Fraser

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 16, Matinee

Abe Burrows’ 60’s era Cactus Flower, memorable as a film with Walter Matthau, Goldie Hawn, and Ingrid Bergman, opened at the Westside Theatre (Upstairs), and Michael Bush has directed for one of the most enjoyable matinees in a long time. Sets, gestures, and dialogue are uncluttered, nothing esoteric or implied. With vaudevillian timing and campy characters coming and going through doors and windows, Feydeau came to mind. In fact, Burrows’ original comedy was based on a French play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy (Fleur de Cactus). The leads are Maxwell Caulfield as Dr. Julian Winston, a bachelor dentist, busy by day and night, Lois Robbins as Stephanie Dickinson, Dr. Winston’s immaculate secretary and personal assistant, and Jenni Barber as Toni Simmons, Julian’s secret girlfriend, who thinks he’s married with three kids.

Additional characters are Jeremy Bobb as Toni’s friendly next door neighbor in the Village, Robin Skye as Mrs. Dixon Durant, a blustery dental patient who’s prey to Julian’s bedside manner, Anthony Reimer as Harvey Greenfield, Julian’s friend and patient, whose empty pockets bring him free care and requests for favors, John Herrera as Señor Arturo Sanchez, another patient, with fiery Latin hormones, and Emily Walton as Botticelli’s Springtime, in a brief signature role. Anna Louizos’ movable sets take the action from pristine dental office, to colorful Village crash pad, to dim, tacky bar and dance floor, and back and forth with rapid ease. As the adorable plot unfolds, the audience was vocally entertained, with collective laughs and a final standing ovation.

This farcical story revolves around Julian’s fear of commitment, with callous unawareness of Stephanie’s longtime adoration, Toni’s breakable emotional shell, and his own need for love. Julian discovers Toni in a near-death scene, but Igor had come to her rescue and fell in love in the process. When Julian sees Igor in a towel, with Toni almost lifeless, he needs to find a wife to fit the lie. Once he has the wife, he can divorce her and grab Toni from Igor’s space. Stephanie is recruited for the role, and she painfully follows orders, all the while looking for an out. Toni catches on to Stephanie’s tortured feelings, so to please Toni, Julian tries to find a lover for Stephanie. Harvey, Señor Sanchez, and Igor take turns at the bar and dance floor, with madcap results. Meanwhile, Mrs. Durant gets jealous, Botticelli’s Springtime appears, and Stephanie’s desktop cactus flower blooms brightly, a metaphor for Stephanie’s transformation. The time is mid-60’s, and Burrows matched plot to era. By the end of the play, the leads re-assemble into neat happy duos.

Karen Ann Ledger’s costumes and Edward J. Wilson’s wigs are delightful, with sound and lighting perfectly pitched. I’ll have to rent the film to see this again, and I certainly wish I had a dentist like Dr. Julian Winston, as Maxwell Caulfield exudes warmth and care, even in comical deceptions. Mr. Caulfield gave a magnetic performance. Ms. Robbins and Ms. Barber, as well, never stooped to cartoonish characterization, as they added layers of poignancy to their personalities. Of the remaining characters, I loved watching Señor Sanchez, with his flaming Latin flair. Kudos to Abe Burrows.

Lois Robbins and Jenni Barber
in “Cactus Flower”
at the Westside Theatre
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg

Maxwell Caulfield, Jenni Barber, Lois Robbins,
Anthony Reimer in "Cactus Flower"
at the Westside Theatre
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg

Maxwell Caulfield and Lois Robbins
in "Cactus Flower"
at the Westside Theatre
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at