Alibi V.16 No.9 • March 1-7, 2007 

Performance Review

On the Rocks

Orange Flower Water at the Cell Theatre

Orange Flower Water   runs through March 11 at the Cell Theatre.
Orange Flower Water runs through March 11 at the Cell Theatre.

On the surface, the premise of Craig Wright's Orange Flower Water sure sounds like a big fat bore, doesn't it? Two couples live in a tiny, suburban-esque town in Minnesota. Inevitably, two of them begin an affair, and all four begin taking long turns at the pity machine, wallowing in either guilt or victimization, depending on their mood from moment to moment.

Yeah, I know. You've seen this kind of thing before—probably 800 times since last Thursday. People cheat. Marriages can be unhappy. It sucks. What do you want me to do about it?

Wright worked as a writer for HBO's acclaimed show “Six Feet Under,” a program I've never seen. I do know, however, that the show has been praised to the skies by people who know about such things.

The new Fusion Theatre Company production of Orange Flower Water, currently running over at the Cell Theatre (700 First Street NW), got off to a bit of a slow start the night I saw it. Thankfully, Wright soon proved he knows how to craft some zippedy-quick dialog. The plot might seem clichéd; it certainly doesn't feel weighty. But none of that matters. Helmed by director Laurie Thomas, the Fusion crew have exploited Wright's inspired chatter to the fullest. Once this baby gets cooking, it's a genuinely funny, if only occasionally moving show. Although it covers familiar ground, Wright's barbs and banter are often extremely original, and, for the most part, this cast handles the stellar material with finesse.

Self-described prick Brad (William R. Stafford) stands behind Beth (Jacqueline Reid, left) and Cathy (Julie Thudium).
Self-described prick Brad (William R. Stafford) stands behind Beth (Jacqueline Reid, left) and Cathy (Julie Thudium).

Jacqueline Reid plays Beth, one of the cheaters, a Catholic woman who's plagued with guilt for betraying a husband she never loved. Reid is fantastic (she always is) in the most emotionally intricate role in the play. Julie Thudium as Cathy also delivers a very solid performance as the female cheatee.

I wish there had been more of William R. Stafford on stage. His character, Brad, a belligerent misogynist and self-described “prick,” gets all the best lines, and Stafford delivers them with a wicked zing, so much so that if I ever meet him in person, I'm going to assume he's a jerk until he supplies me with concrete evidence to the contrary.

Michael Finnegan seemed just adequate, but he probably had the toughest role. David, who's embroiled in the affair with Beth, isn't a particularly likable character, but he isn't entertainingly offensive like Brad either. He's just a wormy, self-indulgent loser. For that reason, probably, I wasn't riveted by his time on stage.

The set for this production is as obvious as it is appropriate: A large bed is positioned in the middle of the theater. The four characters are present at all times—watching, worrying, seething. All interactions occur either around the bed or on the bed, providing a perfect battleground for the interpersonal carnage that's unleashed on the audience.

There you have it. Orange Flower Water might revolve around the most clichéd of suburban dramas, but these four talented actors, with substantial assistance from Wright's razor-sharp script, make sure you feel many things over the course of 90 minutes, boredom not being one of them.

Orange Flower Water , a play by Craig Wright directed by Laurie Thomas and presented by the Fusion Theatre Company, runs through March 11 at the Cell Theatre (700 First Street NW). Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinee performances at 2 p.m. on Sunday. $22 general, $17 students/seniors. Aside from the opening night show, Thursday performances feature a $10 student rush (with valid ID) and a $15 actor rush (with pro résumé). 766-9412.