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Mark R. Giesser's "How to Build a Better Tulip"

Theatre Row's Acorn Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.
June 30-July 17, $55.
Telecharge.com or (212) 239-6200. Senior citizen/student seats available at $30 one hour before the show at the box office only.
Reviewed by Robert Hicks on June 30.

Lois Nettleton in "How to Build a Better Tulip" at the Acorn Theatre/Theatre Row. Photo by: Carol Rosegg

Playwright-director Mark Giesser's "How to Build a Better Tulip" pits two horticulturists, Dr. Audrey Braddock (Emmy winner Lois Nettleton) and Dr. Adrian Vanderpol (Paul Amodeo), against one another in their quest to create a genetically engineered black tulip.

Giesser wants to construct a wacky, sci-fi comedy in the mold of television's hit sitcom, "Third Rock from the Sun," but he misses the mark.

Braddock shares a greenhouse and a postgraduate lab assistant Sheila Crouch (Prentiss Benjamin - daughter of Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin) with Vanderpol at SUNY. Braddock's specialty is breeding Bolivian corn and Vanderpol's passion is petunias. Both cringe at the prospect of sharing a greenhouse and Braddock is further dismayed to discover that her daughter Perci (Tessa Auberjonois - daughter of actor Rene Auberjonois) has taken on Vanderpol as her new boyfriend. Egged on by two meddling, 17th century Dutch ancestors - Prof. Carolus Hoofdorn (Mitchell Greenberg) and housemaiden Cornelia Maartens (Prentiss Bejamin) - who have lodged in their modern host's brains, these rival breeders attempt to undermine one another's efforts to create the perfect black tulip by implicating each other in a plot to develop horticultural weapons of mass destruction.

Giesser's zany premise for comedy might have a life were it not for the poor comic timing of his miscast crew of "genetically sound" actors. Emmy winner Nettleton's return to the New York stage was marred on opening night as she struggled throughout this boring production to remember her lines. The rest of the cast didn't help matters any. There were many flubbed lines that threw off the comic timing. Giesser further confused the audience by creating puzzling alter-egos for Braddock (Scarlett O'Hara) and for Vanderpol (Elvis Presley). Braddock's fake Southern accent came out of nowhere and was simply ridiculously forced. The production left one considering that the cast might have better spent its time attending a course called "How to Build a Better Comedy."[Hicks]

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