The Actor's Workshop of Ithaca

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Ithaca Post - Oct 2, '10: ORANGE FLOWER WATER

DOMESTIC DISTURBANCES

by LUKE Z. FENCHEL on OCTOBER 2, 2010

WITH ITS RAPID-FIRE DIALOGUE, explosive plot twists, and no-holds barred aggression, Orange Flower Water is the theatrical version of all-out warfare. By turns darkly comic and deeply tragic, the work and its stunning rendition will be the first show of the Actor’s Workshop’s six-show season and is kicking off Friday at Risley Hall. Orange Flower Water is the perfect reminder that no entertainment can be as entrancing and engrossing as a small black box stage.

With its physical and verbal violence, raw sex and even rawer emotions, Orange Flower Water isn’t easy to watch, but it’s an ultimately rewarding, harrowing, memorable piece. The play is set in a Midwestern city in Minnesota, and the narrative tells the story of two married couples — David and Cathy Larson and Brad and Beth Youngquist — who together destroy the tranquility of their ordinary suburban existence in search of a greater happiness that seems as out of reach as the lapping waves or green pine trees staged just on the horizon.

The work opens with David (Jonathan Meyerhoff) and Beth (Eliza VanCort, director of The Actor’s Workshop) about to consummate a three-year flirtation. With five kids and 30 years of marriage between them, both feel trapped in what they see as failed partnerships and miserable lives. The smarmy and hedging David blames his wife for his grumpiness and general malaise, and Beth has a loveable lug for a husband who she now sees as a dimwitted hulk. They imagine their shared future in dreamy sepia tones and smelling as blissful as the orange flower water of the play’s title, which neither David nor Beth have ever smelled.

Told through scenes that all take place on or around a single bed, Orange Flower Waterdocuments the unraveling of marriage from every angle. Joining VanCort and Meyerhoff are Actor’s Workshop instructors Katie Spallone and Lance Milne in a production that is both intensely intimate and profoundly voyeuristic, a ninety minute piece that is wickedly smart, savage and sharp as a switchblade.

“The set is just a bed and four chairs,” the director Amina Omari said by email. “Only four people — two married couples — are involved in this world, and they stay on stage to see everything that happens. The tension of their watching propels the play.”

“A bedroom is a private place for intimate acts; relationships form and fall apart there. But the consequences of those intimate acts ripple out to affect all the characters,” Omari continued.

Omari directs a play by Craig Wright, who has also written for HBO’s Six Feet Under. Like that series, Orange Flower Water explores common situations not commonly depicted in art: scenes from relationships that are often left behind closed doors (an especially intimate scene between Cathy and David is played especially devastatingly by Spallone and Meyerhoff, and an explosive one between VanCort and Milne is likely to leave audiences cowering in fear).

Banjo player Richie Sterns provides live musical accompaniment. Stearns is a founding member of the Horse Flies recently returned from tour with Natalie Merchant, and his performance here is improvisational.

The play marks the official launch of the Actors’s Workshop of Ithaca Theatre Company, which will produce six more shows in the coming year. Up next is My Name is Rachel Corrie (Jan. 13-15), followed by Caryl Churchill’s Far Away (Jan. 21-22), Jeff Goode’sPoonah the F*ckdog (and other Plays for Children) (March 24-26), John Patrick Shanley’s Four Dogs and a Bone (June 2-4), Original and Contemporary Monologues(July 29-30) and The Jewish Wife (and Other One-Acts) (Aug. 5-6).

There will be four performances of Orange Flower Water: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Oct. 1-2 and 8-9, in the Risley Black Box Theatre at Cornell University (302 Risley Hall). Due to mature themes, no one under 18 will be admitted to the play. Tickets are $15 ($10 for students and seniors) and are available at Ticket Center Ithaca (171 E. State St./The Commons), by calling (607) 273-4497 or online at www.tickets.com. Visit www.actorsworkshop.biz or call (607) 339-9999 for more information.

Additional reporting by Jim Catalano.

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