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Orange Flower Water

Jason Butler Harner and Pamela J. Gray
in Orange Flower Water
(Photo © S. McGee)
"There are no moments of goodness that don't come with responsibilities," says a character in Craig Wright's Orange Flower Water, currently receiving a stunning New York premiere courtesy of the Edge Theater Company. The line is spoken by a woman who's about to embark upon an adulterous affair; she addresses it to the man she loves but to whom she is not married. Both of them have children with their respective spouses, and they worry about God and the decay of societal values; however, that's not going to stop them from attempting to achieve happiness together.

Wright, who is one of the lead writers on HBO's Six Feet Under, has crafted four sharply drawn characters with flaws and human failings who each try to connect to the person they love while simultaneously trying to control the collateral damage that this may cause. Beth (Arija Bareikis) is married to Brad (Paul Sparks) but loves David (Jason Butler Harner), the husband of Cathy (Pamela J. Gray). Obviously, not everyone will end up happy, and it's clear from early on that David and Beth's affair will not remain a secret for long. There are consequences for each decision that the characters make.

Wright's intelligent play is laced with humor and is full of crisp, emotionally resonant dialogue. "Everything actually has to happen, doesn't it?" asks Beth. "You think in your mind things can happen without happening, but in the end, they always have to actually happen." Kids grow up. Couples fall in and out of love. Life can seem very long sometimes; the play's characters examine the choices that they made long ago and wonder whether or not they have to live with them forever or if they can start afresh. If they do begin again, can they stop themselves from repeating their mistakes or making ones that are even worse?

The ensemble cast is excellent. Bareikis brings a quiet sensitivity to Beth but is also capable of intense anger. Sparks plays a jerk extremely well, yet he makes the audience sympathize with him, particularly in a moving monologue during which Brad writes a letter to his wife in an attempt to win her back. Harner captures both the passion and pettiness of his character, while Gray presents a stoic facade that barely conceals the outpouring of grief and anger that Cathy feels following the discovery of her husband's affair. Gray and Harner engage in one of the longest and most explicit simulated sex scenes I've ever seen, yet it doesn't feel gratuitous; the range of emotions that the characters experience before, during, and after the act are incredibly complex and brought to vivid life by the performers.

Set designer David Korins has completely transformed the stage environment, rendering the Theater for the New City space virtually unrecognizable. He's laid down wood paneling on the floors to match those of the wall units that he's set up to delimit the space; behind the walls, pine trees are visible. The playing area is surrounded on three sides by the audience; at its center is a large, wood-framed bed with a quilted orange and brown blanket. A small nightstand is the only other set piece, but when the actors are not in a scene, they retreat to the four chairs positioned at the edge of the space and remain in full view of the audience. The result is an extremely intimate production, elegant in its simplicity.

Director Carolyn Cantor utilizes the space well and the actors' movements always seem natural and organic, even though they frequently shift position in order to be seen by different segments of the audience. The pacing is flawless, with Eric Shim's music and sound design setting the tone and often the tempo for the various scenes. Ben Stanton's lighting and Jenny Mannis's costumes are also well-suited to the production. This is an extremely busy spring theatrical season, but Orange Flower Water should not be missed.


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