New Century's Orange Flower Water is a hit
 

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posted Friday, July 3, 2009 - Volume 37 Issue 27

New Century's Orange Flower Water is a hit
by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Orange Flower Water
New Century Theatre
Company (at ACT)
Through July 20


New Century Theatre Company announced its arrival last year with a stunning performance of The Adding Machine, a crisp and absorbing production. Their second production took a while to accumulate donations to produce, but is now at ACT Theatre. Orange Flower Water, by Craig Wright, is essentially about adultery and its consequences. NCTC's production is again crisp and absorbing.

The audience is led through a plain wooden doorway to an enclosed seating area within about 20 feet from a bed, in the center. The set by Matthew Smucker immediately creates an almost "in-your-face" intimacy. The only other adornment is a few tree branches that reach inside the enclosure, though the branches' lack of leaves might also signify a kind of inability to breathe. Lighting from Geoff Korf hones the focus down to exact frames of light, so that it's almost impossible to reflect on anything but that frame. Once the play begins, the inexorable dance keeps going until it's over, not letting the audience free until the very end.

Within this area, four people create a complex set of relationships. David and Cathy Calhoun (Hans Altwies and Jennifer Lee Taylor) are casual friends with Brad and Beth Youngquist (Ray Gonzalez and Betsy Schwartz). Their kids play soccer together. David and Beth consummate a budding affair in front of us. We witness their tortured reasoning and difficult decisions, even as they declare their (real) love for each other. It turns out that Brad had already figured out that something was on between them, and when Beth decides to leave, Brad puts the final set of actions in motion by calling Cathy to tell her about the affair.

One of the clearly unique aspects of the script is the blindingly smart Cathy, though she doesn't seem to be able to tell David is having an affair. It's not that Beth is stupid, but she seems not to quite reason through all the way to the end, and is more emotionally impulsive. Playwright Craig Wright writes tight dialogue that cuts to the chase, but often also amuses. Even as Cathy and Beth are adjusting to a new reality, their awkward, but generous, conversation at a soccer game brings a bit of a smile. It's refreshing that no one hates anyone, and everyone tries hard to be the best person he or she can be. The "soap opera" of hating one another is removed, and more realistic struggles give the audience déjà vu moments.

A script weakness might be in the skipping over of the breakup of the families, especially their impacts on the kids. Their issues are boiled down to whether or not there will be a bedroom in the new house for them to feel welcome. Since the script is so clear about so many issues, leaving that out is almost cheating, though it would complicate the script maybe too much.

Director Allison Narver gets a lot of controlled emotion from her actors and orchestrates a couple almost un-embarrassing sexual acts, which, in those close quarters, is quite a feat. (Note: this is not a play for children or probably younger teens.) With the audience close enough to participate, some might feel squeamish with the actors' sexuality so closely on display. However, the dialogue is really the point, and the sexual intimacy takes a back seat.

The four actors are all uniformly terrific, and support each other equally. Ray Gonzalez starts out as a "guy" character who barbeques, yells at his kid on the soccer field, talks trash about women, and treats his wife with disregard. But when we realize his character's self-knowledge ("I'm a prick and everyone knows that"), he transcends any stereotypes. Jennifer Lee Taylor is perfect for the intellectual Cathy, and her reactions to betrayal are completely reasonable, though not predictable. Betsy Schwartz is almost too wide-eyed, almost too "deer in the headlights," as she worries, "Are we going to become one of those?" referring to people-who-divorce-and-ruin-their-families. Her character might benefit from a bit less impulsivity, but it's likely a script issue. Hans Altwies is a sexy David, allowing the audience to understand why Beth might upend her life for him. His character arc doesn't bend very far, though, and David doesn't seem to have learned much by the end, again a script issue.

During a post-play discussion, someone suggested that the actors were better than the material. It's possible, though the script itself is what NCTC says it wants to present: something challenging that asks more questions than it answers. Oh, the title comes from a kind of food additive that smells like oranges, and is the stuff of dreams.

For more information, go to www.newcenturytheatrecompany.org or www.acttheatre.org or call 206-292-7676.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.



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