Sunday, July 8, 2012

Theatre review: "Orange Flower Water" from No Name Players-Sunday 8th July 2012

Intense, truthful acting and perceptive directing vivify No Name Players’ production of Craig Wright’s domestic drama Orange Flower Water. The dark intimacy of Pitt’s Studio Theatre makes the experience truly up close and personal, diving into intimacy as two couples alternately dive onto a bed, the centerpiece of this experience, while they seek to alter their relationships.

Wright has written TV scripts for Six Feet Under, United States of Tara and Dirty Sexy Money. You can see such orientation in this short exploration of marriages gone awry, as if it were a one hour episode, rather than something complete. Which is not to say that it is either shallow or slick. Wright deals in shades of gray, not black and white, showing four people trying to work out their own imperfections, not realizing exactly what or who they are.

Given that, an excellent cast perfectly exposes those conflicting qualities, director Steven Wilson evoking the right pace.

The premise seems simple. David, married to Cathy, yearns to merge with neighboring Beth, married to Brad. Beth appears interested, wanting to move on and escape Brad’s dull crudeness, despite 15 years of living together, even begetting children. Both Cathy and Brad try to hold to what they think they had before.

Wright’s insightful script makes it clear that David is more clueless than the other three about what he is doing with his life. Cathy provokes David into intense sex trying to hold him home. Beth, a traditional wife and mother, appears to think that another relationship is the only escape. Expletive-dependant, seemingly violent Brad hasn’t the power to prevent losing Beth, but certainly knows he loves her. Wright also makes it clear that the course of new love never does run smooth.

Mike Mihm’s version of Brad impressively seethes with raw anger while, at the same time, revealing the hurt little boy inside and Tressa Glover convincingly makes clear Beth’s emotional confusion. Robin Abramson’s Cathy seems believably vulnerable, the most sympathetic of the quartet and, as David, Ricardo Vila-Roger always comes across as genuine, even while keeping David’s inner self opaque.

Director Wilson adds a good subtle touch by having the four protagonists seated in individual corners, as if a tag team of combatants ready to slug it out under glaring spotlights. Yet, I found he didn’t go far enough in staging Cathy and David’s quite explicit sex. Since so much else of these performances stays realistic and truthful, this calls for, at least, unzipping a fly and lifting a skirt, rather than keeping the couple too clothed. I’ve read on-line that productions elsewhere actually include nudity.

I think you will notice, then, if you need such an advisory, that this is a play for mature audiences. Mature enough to also understand what Wright is trying to tell us, recognizing his expert portrayal of human nature and the imperfections of relationships.

As for the title, it seems almost peripheral, but you might find some small, symbolic significance.

Orange Flower Water continues through July 14th at PITT Studio Theater, Cathedral of Learning, Oakland.

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