Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
However, in Gran's case the decision to move into the Blooming Cactus retirement home in Yuma, Arizona, was something forced upon her by her son. Kerschen-Sheppard's comedy focuses on a subject that isn't talked about often: how a senior citizen can see the entire life they knew–their spouse, their friends, and their home–all suddenly disappear when they are forced to move to a retirement home in a new town. But Blooming Cactus is a comedy with many laugh out loud moments, so while those serious moments are touched upon, and they are delivered terrifically in Theatre Artists Studio's world premiere production, it's the humorous moments that truly shine with a cast that sparkle with their sharp comic timing.
The plot begins when Gran's 18-year-old grandson Joey comes to stay with her for several months while he's taking a gap year before going to college. Joey meets his grandmother's friends Denny and Jean and soon realizes that the three of them are running a drug smuggling ring. Jean handles marketing, Denny handles the finances, and his Gran is the driver who drives down to Mexico, purchases low-cost medications for their many fellow Blooming Cactus residents, and the three of them split the profits as a way to supplement their fixed income. While Joey is concerned at first, his Gran states "no one's gonna search a little old lady at the border." However, since Gran is currently using a wheelchair due to a leg injury, Denny and Jean realize that Joey may be able to help her on the drug runs, since she's slightly incapacitated, and with two of them going, they could possibly expand their enterprise, perhaps even going for the harder drugs that could bring in even bigger profits.
While there may be a few parts of Kerschen-Sheppard's script that don't exactly ring true–I'm not certain that someone living in an apartment in a senior living center would be allowed to have their grandchild move in with them for an extended period of time–the dialogue is natural, the jokes funny, and the tender moments warm. Running about 85 minutes (including an intermission), it doesn't overstay it's welcome but still manages to hit the important points of the topics it brings up. It's also very funny.
Under Debra Rich Gettleman's smooth direction, the cast excel, especially Patti Suarez who is a gem as Gran. With a sure-footed take on the character, along with a firm depiction and understanding of this woman who had post-retirement plans and dreams with her husband only to find them taken away once he passed, Suarez is excellent. Her monologues and confrontation with her son about how she felt forced to move and was cut off from her past, all due to the fact that her husband's medical bills ate their retirement fund, will make you sit up and pay attention.
Collin McShane is lovely as Joey, with sharp coming timing that gets many laughs. Reuben Renaldo and Debra Rich Gettleman are charming and fun as Denny and Jean, respectively, and Beau Heckman and Carol Gibson provide some fun moments of tension and hilarity as Joey's parents.
Creative elements are great. Tom Noga's set design is excellent and perfectly resembles what you'd imagine an apartment in a retirement home in Arizona would look like. Kandyce Hughes' costumes are character specific and fun. The lighting by Stacey Walston and sound design by Rich Gettleman, Walston, and Noga help to clarify a few scenes not set in the apartment.
With a winning cast, clear direction, and rich creative aspects, Blooming Cactus at Theatre Artists Studio is a fun, charming comedy but also a touching drama with many tender moments.
Blooming Cactus runs through September 3, 2023, at Theatre Artists Studio, 4848 East Cactus Road, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.TheStudioPHX.org or call 602-765-0120
Director: Debra Rich Gettleman