There's no rubbernecking more compulsive than watching other people's relationships go off the rails; after all, in seeing what goes wrong, we're really hoping to figure out how to get it right. Orange Flower Water, Craig Wright's taut chamber piece about two fractured marriages and the affair that finally breaks them, will definitely feed your jones for heartbreak. But in Wright's raw-nerved, aching vision, the course of true love looks more like a maze than a road map.
And by the way, you're part of the maze, thanks to set designer David Korins's enveloping, wood-paneled space created especially for this Edge Theater Company production. Every elementthe benches for audience members, the floor of the playing area, even the double-bed center stageis made of the same rich pine. Literally sharing the room with the characters, we can't keep our distance from the very human confusion on view.
Like Korins's stunning design, Wright's play gets under our skin by confounding categories. Whether graphic, as in the scene in which one couple consummates the end of their marriage, or oblique, as in a conversation under an umbrella between the "other woman" and the ex-wife, Orange Flower Water insists that life, and above all, love, are not merely plagued by contradictions but defined by them. For the most part, the ensemble convincingly inhabits this tricky terrain, although the scorned spouses (Paul Sparks and Pamela J. Gray) read more vividly than the adulterous ones (Arija Bareikis and the miscast Jason Butler Harner).
Orange Flower Water
By Craig Wright
Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue
The play's title refers to the flavoring ingredient whose redolence evokes the heady awareness of happiness. Wright can do without such elaborate symbols. The moment-to-moment world he's created speaks with far more cogent poetry.
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