A bit of advice for the SoCal theatergoer. Whenever you see the words, “written by Craig Wright,” don’t hesitate.  Just go.  The TV scribe most famous for Dirty Sexy Money and Six Feet Under is also an accomplished playwright, capable of writing comedy in the face of tragedy (Recent Tragic Events), testosterone-filled drama (Lady), and suspenseful tragedy (Grace). In Orange Flower Water, Wright takes a plot as old as humankind itself (adultery) and adds his unique voice to its repercussions on the cheaters and the cheated upon.

In our first glimpse of the two couples, they are seated on upstage benches, Beth and Brad to the far left, David and Cathy to the far right right.  Then, Cathy moves into a downstage spot and begins the first of four monologs the characters will deliver in the course of the play.

Cathy’s is a set of often humorous instructions to hubby David on how to take care of their home and children while she is away at a choir festival. Little does Cathy know that David is in bed with Beth at the Holiday Haven Motel.  

“I finally feel alive,” David tells Beth, whose response is to begin a discussion of faith and God. What, asks David?  After three years of friendship, three years of slowly realizing they were married to the wrong people, after three years, Beth wants to talk about God?

Beth is clearly the more ambivalent of the two about their affair, while David knows only one thing: “I love you Beth, more than I’ve ever loved anyone or anything in my life.”  Still, despite her conflicted emotions, Beth has had dreams of their future life together, dreams which include their as yet unconceived child, Lily.

David and Cathy and Brad and Beth already have five children between them, and junior soccer matches are a part of their weekly routine.  At one of these matches, talk between the two husbands turns to women, and Brad begins nearly taunting David with a “Who would you fuck if you could?” game. “So what about my Beth?” Brad asks, and goes so far to demand, “Who would you rather fuck, Beth or Cathy?”

Brad gets his answer when he returns home to find that Beth has packed her bags and is ready to leave. “My wife isn’t walking out of that door!” Brad cries out, but Beth isn’t about to back down. “Every time you touch me, it’s like being raped,” she spits back.  “You cunt.  You motherfucking cunt,” responds an enraged Brad, who later phones Cathy to tell her, “I just thought you should know. Your husband is fucking my wife.”

Even the most voyeuristic of theatergoers may find themselves squirming while watching such intimate exchanges, yet much of Orange Flower Water’s power comes from our discomfort at witnessing such terrible pain and anger.

Wright is particularly adept at showing the aftermath of a marital breakup.  Beth can no longer attend church because when she tries to pray, it seems a stupid thing to do. Cathy goes on the offensive by telling Beth about David’s low sperm count and badmouthing him to his younger lover. Beth and David move into a new home together, but they can’t afford one big enough for their kids to have their own rooms when they visit. When Beth offers to get a job, Brad replies, “He didn’t make you work and I’m not going to make your work.” And Beth must face up to the fact that being without her children is breaking her heart.

Though some productions have featured imaginative set designs, all Orange Flower Water really needs is a double bed (and seats for the four actors), as in Rude Guerilla’s production.  It’s the performances and direction which give the play its power.

I saw Orange Flower Water once before, in a 2006 production at the Victory Theatre in Burbank, a production which featured two of the most powerful performances of the year, Tim Sullens as Brad and Ann Noble as Cathy.  Both made my “Best of” list, and Noble was nominated for an Ovation award.

Under Sharyn Case’s skillful and sensitive direction, Rude Guerilla’s actors are all very good indeed, with the lovely and particularly natural Kirsten Kuiken a standout as Beth.  Susan Daniels and Jay Michael Farley (as Cathy and David) get to play Orange Flower Water’s best-known and most powerful and unsettling scene, an anger/revenge fuck at the end of a marriage, and the two actors do intense, committed work. Ryan Harris has many very good moments as the cuckolded Brad.  Still, effective as Harris and Daniel are, they had to compete with my memories of the visceral gut-wrenching work of Sullens and Noble.

That being said, for anyone interested in provocative adult theater, and especially for those who’ve not yet discovered Craig Wright’s work, this production is well worth seeing. The taste of orange flower water may well be sweet, but for the four characters in Wright’s play, life can be a bitter pill to swallow.

Rude Guerilla Theatre, 202 North Broadway Santa Ana.

–Steven Stanley
June 15, 2008

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