Attending a production at New Theatre Restaurant begins with a meal. Now, this is not just any humdrum meal. It’s a meal designed by Executive Chef Mark Webster and his crew to create the tone that you are in for a treat of your eyes, ears and palate when you attend a show at the New Theatre Restaurant.
OK, here are my favorites from the evening menu that accompanies “Cactus Flower”: spring vegetable medley comprised of zucchini, yellow squash, capers, tomatoes and onions; polenta with fontina cheese; basa (a tender white fish) served with a cilantro, lime and chili sauce; and fried chicken served as tenders with a white cream sauce.
At intermission, my husband and I had the apple crisp cheesecake, based on the recommendation of our server, Tom. To Tom, thanks for the suggestion. It was a tasty treat with a streusel crust and baked apple compote. The apples were tart, tart and more tart.
All right, enough about food. Let’s talk about flowers that bloom under and around adversity. So here is the basic story: a footloose and charming young woman named Toni Simmons believes she is in love with older dentist Dr. Julian Winston. However, the duplicitous nature of people forces more and more lies, especially on the part of Dr. Winston, who is a commitment-phobe. He conjures up a story that he is in an unhappy marriage, but won’t leave his “wife” because of the children. There are no children and no wife. He just tells women he does to avoid getting involved, but as is good humor in a well-written play, the lies unravel in the best way imaginable.
Loretta Swit, star of “M.A.S.H.,” is in town to play Winston’s nurse, Stephanie Dickinson. OK, I was a little young when the series started in 1972, but I really remember the show during the late 1970s and into the early 1980s. The show ran until 1983. I liked Swit’s character, Maj. Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan. That last year, she played the mom in the made-for-TV movie, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” For me, Swit became this strong, but sensitive woman who could raise a family, be in a war and take care of just about everyone. So, needless to say, seeing Swit on the New Theatre Restaurant stage was a little like becoming a young girl again.
Swit capitalizes on the acerbic wit she perfected on “M.A.S.H.” for the role of Dickinson. There are one-liners zinging from her that caused me to laugh and perhaps I laughed a couple of times when only a few others did because the next joke was being set up. Here is one laugh that I really enjoyed. Dr. Winston asks her if a certain Senor Sanchez made overtures to her. “No just a little bossa nova.” Then as she is trying to play the fake wife who is also philandering, she is paired with an actor patient of Winston’s and cloys her way through the evening. She takes a large drink so she can tolerate this man and says, “I have to pre-medicate.” I loved it.
Now, let’s talk about the local actors who supported Swit through the night. The incomparable Dodie Brown plays Mrs. Dixon Durant, a wealthy patient who knows how to keep the one lines flowing. Jim Korinke plays Harvey Greenfield, the obnoxious actor friend of Winston’s. He is as charming as ever. T. Max Graham plays Senor Arturo Sanchez, the Latin ambassador who tries to snag Dickinson. The three provided the Kansas City “weight.” They are all three legends in the dinner/local theater scene and held their own with Swit.
Then there is Kip Niven. I am really beginning to enjoy each time I have a chance to see him perform. In just the span of a few short months, I have seen him sing the role of Pap in Musical Theater Heritage’s “Big River” and then sing the role of the mysterious man in the Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s production of “Into the Woods.” So when I saw him onstage as the conniving, but loveable dentist, I knew it would be good. Niven did pretty well, matching wits with Swit and the lovely Natalie Hiatt, who played Toni Simmons. It was a nice turn to put Hiatt in the mod wig and the groovy late 1960s clothes, reminiscent of Goldie Hawn when Hawn played the character. Hawn won an Oscar for best supporting actress for the role.
Tristan Colton, who plays Igor Sullivan, provided some nice muscles and a sweet character that pairs well with Hiatt. My husband thought Hiatt was adorable and I found Colton nice to watch. Patrick DuLaney took on three bit parts – music lover, waiter and customer. Cassie Hollmann plays Botticelli’s Springtime, a bombshell-sort of girlfriend for Harvey.
Here are some of my final thoughts about the play. First, I enjoyed it. I love farces. The play ended up with the right folks in love with each other. Second, it is a “period” piece in one sense. The time period is the late 1960s-early 1970s, which is about when the movie hit the big screen. The one disjointed aspect was some of the music. Taylor Swift and Michael Bublé were out of place. So on the whole, “Cactus Flower” is good family fun. Enjoy blooming where you are planted and take in the play at New Theatre Restaurant by April 10.