Orange Flower Water, June 7 through July 6, 2008

A production of the Rude Guerrilla Theatre, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, Ca.

For tickets and information about Orange Flower Water,

call 714-547-4688 or log on to rudeguerrilla.org.

 

            The subject of Craig Wright’s popular comic-drama Orange Flower Water is adultery. Two attractive suburbanites, both trapped in dead-end marriages, meet up at their sons’ weekend soccer games and fall madly in love. That simple, right? Well, the story isn’t quite that simple; no story worth the telling ever is. Perhaps, also, adultery isn’t so much the subject of Mr. Wright’s play as it is the play’s setting. In 1992, Alexandra Gerston gave us My Thing of Love, a painfully funny comedy set amidst another marriage mired in adultery. Ms. Gerston’s play, however, is a furious farce with little, if any, sympathy for her wayward spouses. Even amidst their self-inflicted confusion, Mr. Wright allows his characters at least the possibility of redemption and that possibility comes in the form of a child. Beth & David are normal suburbanites living somewhere in the United States. David (Jay Michael Fraley) is a mousy Pharmacist, a father of two sons and the frustrated husband of Cathy (Susan Daniels). Beth (Kirsten Kuiken) is a willowy mother of a ten-year old son and wife of Brad (Ryan Harris), a loud, hot-tempered, yet apparently loyal suburban man-child. The play opens with Beth & David making love. There’s nothing unusual here; we simply see two beautiful people having sex. Beth breaks away however, and as she puts her clothes back on, she gives David all her rational reasons for wanting to wait. Mr. Wright lets us meet the exes, Cathy and Brad, and he brings us into their bedrooms at the very moments their marriages break up. Mr. Wright’s play is no easy feast, but after the anger and confusion has settled, Beth & David bear a daughter. The baby is enough; with her birth, redemption is, at least, a possibility. 

            Director Sharyn Case and a cast of four wonderful actors make a thoroughly compelling case for Mr. Wright’s play. Jay Michael Fraley, the co-artistic director of Rude Guerrilla, plays David. Mr. Fraley is a superb actor. He never allows us to remember that we’re in a theatre. Instead, he casually invites us in to have a look at his intimate moments. Watching can be uncomfortable. As Beth, Kirsten Kuiken is soft and willowy and her performance is also simple and direct, in Mr. Fraley’s style. Susan Daniels plays David’s soon-to-be ex-wife Cathy. Ms. Daniels is a formidable presence onstage, and her performance as the woman thrown over is both scary and absorbing. As Beth’s ex-barbarian Brad, Ryan Harris seems a tad out of control. Mr. Wright’s play paints a picture of a Brad who’s more talk than do. Mr. Harris’ Brad is a tad too dangerous to fit that role. Director Sharyn Case keeps the play moving at a quick, even tempo.

            Orange Flower Water shares a set with A New Brain, also currently running at the Rude Guerrilla. The set is a bare room and a bed, a strikingly metaphor of the play itself. E.J. Brown’s light design is probably more suited to A New Brain, given the number of times actors miss their marks. Still and all, the lights serve the production fairly well.

            Orange Flower Water gets its name from a dream Beth has about the first baby she and David will have together. By including this dream, Craig Wright gives Beth and David a chance at redemption. Time marches on and human beings eventually earn the benefit of the doubt. Craig Wright’s play may not be perfect, but it’s worth a trip to the theatre to see it, especially in an excellent production like the one currently onstage at the Rude Guerrilla.

                       

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, CA. Through July 6. Saturdays at 4:30, Sundays at 7:00. Tickets: 714 547 4688.

--Steven Stanley
June 15, 2008

REVIEW

Drama blooms with hurt

Rude Guerrilla’s ‘Orange Flower’ paints an unsparing picture of infidelity.

By ERIC MARCHESE SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER

 

 

    Nothing seems to separate the baby boom generation from its parents more than the insistent “me first” mentality of so many of its members.

    Their parents may have stayed married to hold the family together, even if husband and wife were miserable, but boomers place personal happiness first, and the family’s welfare second.

    Craig Wright’s 2002 drama “Orange Flower Water” examines exactly that, focusing on two boomer couples coming apart at the seams because two of the spouses are dissatisfied.

Rude Guerrilla Theater Company’s production of the show’s Orange County premiere is an ideal intersection of troupe (which doesn’t shy from emotionally intense material) and script, which spares no one’s feelings or sensibilities.

    After 15 years of marriage and three kids, David Calhoun (Jay Michael Fraley), a mild-mannered pharmacist, has acted on his urges of vague unhappiness by gravitating toward the younger Beth Youngquist (Kirsten Kuiken). Beth, in turn, is drawn to David’s sensitivity over the more overt machismo of husband Brad (Ryan Harris).

    The last to discover David and Beth’s duplicity and betrayal is David’s wife, Cathy (Susan Daniels), a devoted soccer mom who has washed David’s socks, cooked his meals and done everything to please him even as the marriage has grown progressively joyless.

    Rather than present us with soap opera theatrics, Wright gives us a carefully crafted schema of nine consecutive two-character scenes, a sort of round-robin that gives us the chance to see each character interact with only one of the other three at a time.

    The continuous stream of conflict is punctuated by letters from one character to another, the letters read aloud by their authors.

    For many playwrights, this format would be a restriction; for Wright, it’s a shot in the arm.

    Things grow particularly ugly in the moments leading up to Beth’s walking out on Brad, and in Cathy and David’s vicious argument about their marriage.

Such an unblinking look at infidelity has little room for tenderness. Wright softens the blows only by peppering his text with sly, knowing humor.

    Sharyn Case’s outstanding staging shows that it’s basic human nature to want to feel the security of a permanent connection.

    At the crux of the argument is whether David and Beth are willing to hurt others in walking out on their spouses. Beth is convinced the rifts will ruin Brad, Cathy and both couples’ kids while altering her and David’s personalities for the worse.

    Her hunches prove eerily accurate; how they play out in this powerful, compact play is just further proof of Wright’s insights into human nature.

    Kuiken delivers a performance of subtle shadings, infused with uncertainty and Beth’s discomfort over sneaking around and lying. Deeply spiritual, her Beth is reasonable, thinks things through and has a huge, forgiving heart able to accommodate all. Daniels’ portrayal is equally subtle, marked by Cathy’s blunt candor and sarcasm.

    David may seem gentle and nonthreatening, but he’s even more insensitive than Brad. Fraley shows him as more of an inadvertent jerk too self-centered to behave otherwise.

    Harris paints Brad as a goofy chauvinist whose hold on Beth is more territorial than romantic, yet who is genuinely hurt by Beth’s infidelity.

    The title refers to an ingredient used in baking cookies to make them taste better, but there may be those watching this play for whom nothing will make it very easy to swallow.

   

Orange Flower Water


Backstage West June 25, 2008 By Eric Marchese

Craig Wright's four-person drama of infidelity and the price its participants pay plays out in nine consecutive two-character scenes. First we get David (Jay Michael Fraley) and Beth (Kirsten Kuiken), who've been cheating on their spouses but have yet to make the ultimate break. Next we see David and Brad (Ryan Harris), Beth's jock husband, on the sidelines of their kids' soccer game. Brad drops hints indicating he knows the 40-ish David is screwing his lovely, younger wife. Beth fears that tearing apart two families is a mistake, a fact even Brad recognizes.

Once David leaves Cathy (Susan Daniels) and their three kids behind and Beth leaves Brad, the Rubicon has been crossed, and Wright allows events to play out as they most likely would in life, his text a delicate balance between raw emotions that tend to get ugly and more-tender feelings that, though as selfish as those depicted in the more heated scenes, get to the core human desire to connect and stay connected.

Sharyn Case's quartet of actors strikes sparks. Fraley's David and Daniels' Cathy seem like middle-aged marrieds together so long they take each other for granted, although Cathy is ever the dutiful soccer mom while pharmacist David is vaguely unhappy. Brad says "everyone" knows that he himself is a prick; yet David, convinced he knows what he's doing, may be even more so. Harris' Brad is like a big kid whose machismo is a façade; despite all, he loves Beth deeply. Kuiken and Daniels paint beautifully subtle portraits: Daniels brings cynicism to her focal rough-sex scene with Fraley and brutal honesty everywhere else, while Kuiken's complexly shaded Beth evolves before our eyes from confusion to a figure of almost God-like compassion and the ability to forgive.

Presented by Rude Guerrilla Theater Company,


202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana.

Sat. 4:30 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Jun. 7-Jul. 6.

(714) 547-4688. www.rudeguerrilla.org.