For its inaugural production, InProximity Theatre Company has chosen audaciously. Craig Wright’s 2002 play Orange Flower Water is a no-holds-barred look at two disintegrating marriages. Scenes include the typical recriminations, bitterness, indecision, and uncertainty that such splits spawn—as well as a marital rape (though not one you might expect). It’s emotionally intense, unleavened by humor, yet finally hopeful, and it requires four committed actors. David Calhoun, a pharmacist, and Cathy Youngquist, a choir director, are married, but David is having an affair with Beth, the wife of a video store owner, Brad. Beth is a devout Lutheran: after three years of talking and mooning over each other and declaring their affection, they are about to move to intercourse, at a cabin the Youngquists own. “Cathy … is a mistake that I made,” says David to reassure Beth, “and I am a mistake that she made.” But Beth (Laurie Schaefer) balks at the last minute: “So am I a mistake you’re making? Are you a mistake I’m making?”
Still, Beth has a dream of happiness that includes a daughter named Lily and an incident with orange flower water that Lily spills onto the seat of their car, suffusing the car with its odor. In the end, her dreams win out, and she and David (Brent Vimtrup) move their affair forward.
Brad (Michael Poignand), meanwhile, knows something is up, and he seems to bait David at their sons’ soccer game, asking with relentless machismo about David’s sexual inclinations toward various women around the field. Later, at home, Brad confronts Beth, who is about to leave, and all hell breaks loose. Poignand reaches deep for the raw hurt and resentment, yet he also finds genuine sympathy in Brad, who is very much an insensitive jerk, but also more. When he rushes to the window to see if Beth has driven off yet, hoping that she hasn’t, his shoulders drop defeatedly—it’s a telling physical moment. And his teary recitation of a letter imploring her for another chance is deeply moving.
The other actors do creditable jobs as well, though perhaps Jolie Curtsinger’s Cathy is a bit too chirpy in her first scene, a monologue; however, she’s nicely restrained and confident during an awkward conversation that Cathy has with Beth. Vimtrup and Schaefer make an interesting, exceedingly ordinary couple, fumbling their way toward true intimacy.
One of Wright’s strengths, in fact, is his feeling for ordinary people in small-town America (his latest play, Lady, is about three hunters), and one feels both the suffocation of small-town life—the play is set in Pine City, Minn.—and the yearnings of the characters for something more. “People are always hurting each other and love keeps happening,” David writes in a letter to Lily in the final scene. “It just keeps happening. And the longer you live and the more you notice this, the harder it gets to know what’s right and wrong.”
Director Bryn Boice keeps the tension up throughout most scenes, helped by Amy Altadonna’s mood-sustaining score and sound design. However, a scene when Cathy demands sex from David is staged too coyly. Nudity may not be necessary, but the actors register as self-conscious, fumbling with the sheets for cover when no flesh is ever exposed. (Conversely, it would have been nice if costumer Tescia Seufferlein had provided Schaefer with a costume that covered the numerous distracting tattoos on the actress’s hips.)
Designer James J. Fenton has elaborated smartly on the chairs, bed, and bedside tables that the script calls for. The back wall, painted white, includes rectangles placed as if they were paintings (though they’re empty) and an architectural fantail above the bed. All the paint, however, has been badly weathered, so the wall ingeniously suggests both interior and exterior; it also serves as a visual parallel to the exposed emotions of the characters. Fenton has also scattered pine needles on the floor of the small space, and the audience steps on them to get to their seats.
Orange Flower Water has some unfortunate implausibilities, most notably a scene near the end in which David and Beth scream at each other in a house they’re looking to buy. No real estate agent would leave them alone for the length of time the scene plays, and certainly not when they’re yelling so loudly. But it is a play full of emotional honesty and painful realities, and InProximity’s fine production does it justice. It’s an impressive calling card for the new company.