Jeff DeBell’s previous theater review, of Little Town Players’ “A Christmas Story,” provoked considerable discussion on this blog. In his new review of Attic Productions’ “A Christmas Cactus,” he confesses to having a good time, though he chides the director for some slow pacing.
‘Cactus’ an enjoyable farce
By Jeff DeBell
If you’re looking for seasonal theater fare but would like a break from the usual suspects — Santa, Scrooge and Jesus — consider “A Christmas Cactus.” It’s playing through Saturday in the Attic Productions theater near Fincastle.
The play is a farce by Ellen Byerrum, who uses the pseudonym Eliot Byerrum when writing for the stage. The play is set in the urban present and takes place almost entirely in the office of a red-headed private eye who calls herself Cactus O’Reilly.
Cactus isn’t her given name. Like her creator, O’Reilly (played by Wendy Neuman) has given herself a moniker. “Cactus” presumably reflects her sometimes prickly disposition. It also references a potted plant that figures in the narrative and helps give the play a catchy title.
Anyway, it’s the Yuletide season, but Cactus has the Christmas blues. The private eye biz has turned out to be neither as glamorous nor as lucrative as she had hoped. To the dismay of her male assistant, Fred Booker (Rob Bielawski), she’s thinking of permanently shutting down.
Cactus’ mood isn’t improved by the appearance of lovelorn assistant district attorney Stuart Windsor (James Honaker). His Christmas fantasy involves Cactus and mistletoe; hers does not. She shows him the door.
It’s at about this point that Neville S. Smedley (Michael Brickler) and Ramon Ramirez (Casey Barton) appear. As implied by their matching ensembles of bold horizontal stripes, they’re jail escapees. And, as if they hadn’t made enough of an impression by entering through a window in Dan Naff’s utilitarian but pleasing set, Smedley stokes the ambient tension by maniacally waving about a stolen handgun.
Have you seen “A Christmas Cactus”? Do you agree or disagree? Feel free to sound off.