Although the dynamics of adultery are well known to everyone, it's certainly possible for a writer to shed new light or share new perspectives on the issue. But in Orange Flower Water, now at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre in Akron, playwright Craig Wright expresses the nuts and bolts of marital confrontation better than he explores any fresh territory.
The four actors in this 95-minute, one-act effort initially walk out, one by one, and take their seats at the four corners of the stage, each person pointed more or less to the bed in the center. Having established the aura of a prize-fight, we expect to see plenty of figurative fists fly. And so they do.
Kathy (an icily cool Teresa McDonough) comes forward to sweetly share her love for hubby David. But that's pretty much the last time anyone has anything tender to say about a mate, since David is soon seen groping his friend Brad's wife Beth (Jen Klika) in a motel room. Round by round, we see each of the marriages take more and more body blows, as the unseen collateral damage to both families' children is noted in passing.
Author Wright has a clever way with dialogue, and there are moments of laughter as David doggedly pursues the hesitant Beth, and when he and Brad share macho observations at their kids' soccer game. Referencing a tyke with an odd-sounding Romanian name, tough-guy Brad (fearsome-looking Daniel McElhaney) scoffs, "If my parents had named me that, I'da crapped on the dining-room table every night."
Wright's scene structure is both good and original, but sadly, what's good isn't original and what's original isn't good. There are too many soap-opera set pieces, such as the long argument between Brad and Beth, which is believable but not particularly enlightening. On the other hand, once Kathy learns about David's unfaithfulness, she surprisingly decides to salve her hurt by coaxing him into a cold roll in the hay — an act as unappealing as it is hard to imagine.
Director Sean McConaha brings strong performances out of his talented cast. Mark Mayo is both brash and wounded as David. When David says that it made him feel good to hurt his son Gus, after telling the little boy about the impending divorce, it opens a rich vein of parental ugliness that the playwright chooses not to pursue.
That missed opportunity — one of several — is topped off by David's concluding monologue, which reaches for profundity but only achieves maudlin banality: "We keep hurting each other, but love still happens." Cue Céline Dion.