Onstage in the River Market:
Orange Flower Water 

Front and center on the small stage at River's Edge Theater rests a double bed, on and around which two couples — well, three — revolve. It's a fitting set to portray the story of two marriages disrupted by an affair.

The four characters in Orange Flower Water (directed by Doug Ford) experience the love, anger, lust, disgust, passion, apathy, confusion, desperation and hope found in romantic bonds and their dissolution. If that sounds intense, it is. This isn't an easy play, and it isn't necessarily a cathartic one, but it isn't without reward.

The one-act begins slowly, with each of the cast members meandering by the bed, lingering over it and the memories it holds. Each actor then sits on a chair at the side of the stage. It's an effective setup. They unobtrusively wait for their scenes, maintaining the mood while observing the action before them — or, during more intimate or difficult moments, averting their eyes.

At the start, Cathy (Helena Cosentino) is blissfully unaware that her husband, David (Doug Dresslaer), is having an affair with Beth (Alli Tunnell). Does Beth's husband, Brad (Andy Penn), suspect? Brad's unsettling scene with David along the sidelines at their kids' sports match makes you wonder.

The scenes jump from monologues to dialogues, from lovemaking to confrontation. Breakups can be ugly, and partners ready to move on aren't always nice. Those left behind must struggle to understand.

In some cases, the audience struggles, too. It's a complicated intersection, sex and love, that Orange Flower Water addresses. (At one point, Beth asks David if it's just about the sex. Is it?) While the play takes on the pleasure and the pain of relationships, it doesn't always make clear what's wrong in the marriages, why characters have fallen out of love (or if they ever were in love), and what has finally driven them to leave spouses and children.

At the dress rehearsal I attended, the nonequity cast was hardworking. Penn, as Brad, was particularly affecting, moving from anger to pleading and back, sometimes within the same scene. He makes Brad's pain apparent in a heartwrenching monologue spoken to Beth.

Craig Wright's 90-minute play starts to feel long toward the end, and some emotional transitions come too abruptly and don't ring true. Yet I wanted to see what a character's next decision would be. (Here, as in life, choices aren't usually logical — just like the reasons that couples break up or get together in the first place.) Wright's resolution ultimately is too tidy, wounding a play that otherwise stays true to its considerable hurt. Even so, the small She & Her Productions has ambitiously taken on a big subject. Its execution isn't completely successful, but it's a worthwhile, hopeful endeavor.

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