'Cactus Flower' blooms beautifully at Pioneer Playhouse


If you're looking for a bit of charming comedy that amuses, entertains and features the quintessential happy ending, "Cactus Flower" is just the cup of tea to fit the bill.

Pioneer Playhouse's current offering, directed by James Alexander Bond, is set around 1965 in Manhattan. It opens with a high energy that the cast maintains throughout the course of the show. We meet the lively, flaky Toni (Elisa Abatsis), awakened by her neighbor Igor (Robert Wedig) when he smells gas coming from her apartment. Toni's trying to off herself, but botches it so humorously that we get past the rather morbid aspect of her trying to commit suicide.

Toni is involved with a bachelor dentist, Dr. Julian Winston (Paul Angelo), who, we find out, has concocted a whopper about having a wife and three kids, presumably in order to shy away from any long-term commitments to Toni. She writes a letter before her carbon monoxide escapade, and the doctor rushes to her side, worried that she actually has killed herself. Then, he realizes that he cares for her and asks her to marry him.


Toni insists on meeting the wife to smooth things over with her, which puts Julian in the position of having to find a short-term spouse. He enlists the aid of his stodgy, rather grim nurse Stephanie (Marjorie Tatum), who is reluctant to participate in the lie, but who carries a torch for the doctor and wants to please him.

The lies get more and more outrageous and complicated, until Julian and Stephanie are so caught up in them that they start acting like a married couple in conflict. That leads to some interesting revelations for the four key players, culminating in the aforementioned happy ending - even if the doctor never does come clean with Toni.

The performances are quite good, and the costumes are exquisitely lovely. Abatsis creates in Toni a flighty but often astute ingenue, and carries the part with delightful energy. Wedig's Igor is a struggling writer, occasionally frustrated, skeptical of Julian's motives, and fond of Toni and her capriciousness. We see early on that Toni and Igor seem more suited than Toni and Julian, and it's a cute chemistry that bubbles between Toni and Igor.

Tatum, always a pleasure onstage, goes from dowdy to delicious in the role of Stephanie. Stephanie, the cactus flower, blooms beautifully, and the evolution is believable and enchanting to watch. Additionally, Tatum has a wonderfully mesmerizing voice - resonant, slightly husky, and easy on the ear.

Angelo is amusing to watch. He starts with a slicked-back, relatively conservative hairstyle that, by the end of the show, is not quite as neat. Angelo's hair grows wilder as his life becomes more complicated. I think Angelo creates a Julian with delicacy and cleverness, and the role easily could have been one well worth despising. We don't entirely dislike Julian, but rather, merely roll our eyes at his ongoing prevarications and hope he learns a lesson before he digs himself in too deep.

Supporting characters add winning moments to the romantic comedy, which is performed amidst a brightly-colored and varied set. Robert G. Hess as the loud-mouthed, obnoxious leech Harvey is an ongoing source of laughs, particularly when he gets jiggy in moment of - I don't know - something, as a scene is changing. The audience chortled loudly at his dancing escapades.

Bruce Nicholls as the philandering Seor Sanchez is marvelously slick and smooth. I continue to be impressed with the range of Nicholls' talent, having watched him in several shows and seen an ever-expanding versatility in his skills.

I had a moment of eye-bulging shock - a good one - when Michael Muldoon walked onstage as a music lover looking for a record - yeah, real vinyl - in the music store in which Toni works. I had a flashback to "Office Space" when he opened his mouth - remember that guy with the red stapler that got moved to the basement? - and almost fell over laughing at him.

Patricia Hammond portrays an elegant Mrs. Durant, while Melissa Arleth is "Botticelli's Springtime," a ditzy friend of Harvey's. Matt Franta and Leonard Cole put in brief but fun appearances as a customer and a waiter, respectively.

The fast-paced hijinks of "Cactus Flower" kept me engrossed from beginning to end. In addition, the audience seemed greatly entertained by the show, judging by the laughter and apparent interest of the group. "Cactus Flower" is a good antidote for the hazy, hot and humid days of summer.

Central Kentucky News Articles