'Cactus Flower' never really blooms

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"Cactus Flower" is in the midst of revival, but sitting through the off-Broadway production, one must ask why.

When we need to use the phrase "sitting through" as in enduring, it pretty much tells you everything. The other version of this now playing is "Just Go With It" the Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston movie.

The plot revolves around a dentist, Dr, Julian Winston, ( Maxwell Caulfield) a womanizer, who falls in love with Toni, ( Jenni Barber) a zany waif working in a Greenwich Village record store. Barber unsuccessfully channels Goldie Hawn from the Oscar-winning 1969 film version.

Julian lies and tells her that he's that the married father of three, to avoid commitment.

The play opens with Toni trying to gas herself. Her neighbor, Igor Sullivan, ( Jeremy Bobb) gallantly breaks in to her apartment, revives and falls in love with her.

Julian's nurse, Stephanie Dickinson ( Lois Robbins) is in love with him.

Shaken by Toni's suicide attempt, Julian decides to propose to Toni and tells her that he's leaving his wife. That he has no wife is complicated when Toni insists upon meeting the aggrieved spouse to make sure she's all right with a divorce.

What ensues, naturally, is a farce in which Julian has to have someone pose as a wife; one lie leads to another. It must have worked better when it ran on Broadway from 1965 to 1968.

It's not as if old plays don't hold up; Aristophanes and Shakespeare have both enjoyed recent successes in New York. And, it's also not as if farces can't be staged well, as "Boeing-Boeing" and "Lend Me a Tenor," both hilarious farces, in the 2008-09 season, and last year, respectively, were terrific.

This, by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy, just plods along. The actors work way too hard to get the comedy off the ground. 

Among the better lines are when Toni asks Igor what he writes, as she has been hearing him clacking away on the typewriter. 

"Plays," he says. "What sort of plays?" she asks. "Unproduced."

Robbins, who plays the part Lauren Bacall originated on the stage, is excellent. She fairly bristles with starched efficiency and repressed sexual yearnings.

Senor Arturo Sanchez, ( John Herrera) as a Spanish diplomat, also lights up the stage as he comes onto Robbins' Miss Dickinson. When he asks her out, she asks about his wife.

"Good God, do we have to take my wife everywhere?" he says.

In between scenes, we get snippets of Tom Jones, The Monkees and Petula Clark, reminding the audience that this is the 1960s. And so the characters twist and shout in a nightclub scene, where they laugh at the sheer absurdity of their situation.

If only we could have joined them -- at least in laughing.

Photo/Video credit: Carol Rosegg