The romantic comedy “Cactus Flower” opens at the Star City Playhouse in Vinton on August 10. The play was written by Abe Burrows and premiered on Broadway in 1965. It may best be remembered as the first major film role (in 1969) for actress Goldie Hawn who won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her supporting role as a free-spirited but somewhat “ditzy blond.”
The cast of nine features some faces familiar to Vinton audiences (Gene Marrano, Leah St. Clair, Bob Toven, Cathy Fisher, and Marlow Ferguson) but some new ones, or at least new to Vinton ones, as well (Elizabeth Kelley Dressler, Phil Boyd, Mary Simmons, and Dylan Walsh).
The play opens with a half-hearted suicide attempt by Toni Simmons (played by Elizabeth Kelley Dressler), age 21, in response to a supposed rejection by her middle-aged married lover, the womanizing-dentist Dr. Julian Winston (Gene Marrano).
In fact, the dentist is merely pretending to be married (and has invented three fictional children as well) to avoid making a commitment. Toni is rescued by handsome next-door neighbor Igor (Dylan Walsh), who revives her with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation after she turns on the gas oven. He is much more her contemporary than the good dentist.
Julian subsequently decides to propose to Toni; however, she is guilt-stricken at the thought of being a homewrecker and insists on meeting his fictional wife to make sure the marriage is over.
When Julian decides to marry Toni, he needs a wife to divorce to sustain the lie he has been telling.
He recruits his loyal, no-nonsense, snappish, and secretly lovestruck nurse Stephanie (Leah St. Clair) to pose as his wife to pacify Toni. For years, the efficient Stephanie has kept his life in order. “I can always count on you,” he says.
Stephanie reluctantly agrees to the scheme, and that decision ultimately frees her true personality. She eventually blooms, just like the cactus sitting dormant for years on her office desk— hence the title of the play.
The play runs for about two and a half hours, through many complications and raucous misunderstandings between Toni, Julian, and Stephanie as they sort out their relationships. The mismatch and age gap is evident when Julian gives Toni a mink stole, when she really wanted black leather pants. Toni regifts the fur to Stephanie, saying, “I stole her husband, so I give her a stole.”
Suffice it to say that Julian comes to realize where his heart lies and who best fits the role of wife in his life.
There are 15 separate scenes, with set changes managed deftly by a rolling wall that allows the characters to move between Toni’s apartment and Dr. Winston’s office, with some additional scenes of nightclubs and the record store out front, right in the lap of the audience—which makes the production even more fun.
Supporting roles are handled by Bob Toven as Julian’s friend Harvey who keeps a running tab with the dentist; Mary Simmons as Harvey’s girlfriend Botticelli’s Springtime; Phil Boyd as Senor Sanchez, a dental-phobic patient of Julian who has a crush on Stephanie (but is also married); and Cathy Fisher as another dental patient, Mrs. Dixon Durant. Marlow Ferguson steps in briefly in the role of a record store customer.
The play is set in the 1960s so the music playing beforehand and during intermission is from that era— Sonny and Cher, the Animals, and other familiar oldies.
Marrano, anchor and reporter with WFIR News, has appeared in several Star City Playhouse productions since the company moved to Vinton last year. He says this is one role he really wanted to play, and it seems to be tailor-made for him. In fact, everyone seems to be ideally cast for each role. Dressler is convincingly wide-eyed, innocent, and slightly kooky; St. Clair is perfectly prickly, smitten with the doctor, but uncompromising. Toven and Boyd are appropriately lecherous (for that era); Simmons is alluring; Walsh is the perfect rescuer of a maiden in distress; and Fisher is comic relief.
It’s a very funny play, with many twists and turns, which theatre-goers will be glad they took the time to see.
“Cactus Flower” is showing on weekends (Fridays at 7 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.) from August 10-August 26 at the Star City Playhouse at the corner of Washington Avenue and Pollard Street in downtown Vinton. General admission is $12; $8 for seniors and students. Reservations are available by calling 366-1446.
The Star City Playhouse is owned by Marlow and Karon Semones Ferguson. He describes himself as the artistic director and “stage carpenter,” and an actor for over 50 years. Karon is the Playwright in Residence, costumer, and producer. They are charmingly devoted to each other and dedicated to bringing quality community theatre to their audiences.