Orange Flower Water has now closed. It played at Darlinghurst Theatre from 23 March – 17 April 2011. By Craig Wright, directed by Byron Kaye.
I really, really wanted to like Orange Flower Water at Darlo. I cannot TELL you how much I wanted to like it. I'd read such good things in the reviews and I love Six Feet Under and I have a major soft spot for that little little Darlo stage and I was super excited about going to see it, even though I only managed to squeeze in the Saturday before they closed. Someone compared it to Speaking In Tongues, for heavens' sakes, and we all know how I felt about THAT play.
Lloyd Bradford Syke wrote in his review that:
"You won't just see this play. You'll feel it, deep in the pit of your stomach. If you don't, or can't, relate, you haven't lived."
Well, then, I guess I haven't lived, because as much as I wanted to like this play, it just did nothing for me.
I think you were supposed to identify with the characters, feel their pain. I couldn't. They were all too frustrating. Cathy seemed nice enough, and Amy Mathews turned in a heartfelt performance here. However, her character's run got cut a bit short – you never really saw her after her big scene, which was (as everyone who saw the play knows) the long, drawn out, explicit sex scene with her cheating husband David (Joseph Del Re). There was also nothing wrong with Del Re's performance, except I didn't understand why David fell in love with Beth (Megan Alston), which is obviously at the crux of the character. Whether this fault lies with Del Re or with the writing or the directing... I'm not sure. Perhaps a mixture of all three.
It was easy to understand why Beth fell out of love with her husband Brad (Sebastian Goldspink) as he was completely vile and thoroughly unlikeable. When a character says "I ought to rape you, you f^&*ing c*nt", I think it makes them pretty much irredeemable. Sure, his wife had just announced that she was leaving him and his emotions were running high, so to speak, but yeah... completely unforgiveable. If I was supposed to feel his pain, that ensured I never would, on account of I was too busy loathing him.
So I understood why Beth left Brad for David. All over that. What I didn't understand was why she was crying ALL THE DAMN TIME.
I have very limited patience with crying on stage. The more you cry, the less effective it becomes. It doesn't signal that you're all emotional and fragile and whatnot, because the audience – well, me, anyway – becomes totally inured to it. It's like when you watch Masterchef and they're all standing there having a cry and you don't go 'awwwwww', you go 'LESS CRYING MORE COOKING' because they've been crying for what seems like five episodes now and you just want to see them make a cake without it melting in the rain Macarthur Park style. If Beth had broken down once, maybe twice, then maybe I could have been Team Beth. But no. The way Alston played her, she was CRYING ALL THE TIME. And I didn't sympathise – I wanted to smack her.
Relationships and adultery are territory that has been traversed by many writers many, many times. If you're going to do it and make it stand out, it has to be pretty damn good. The majority of people seemed to think Orange Flower Water was that standout. But it just didn't work for me. There were elements I liked – I thought the set design was inspired, for instance. Setting the whole thing in a bedroom was really clever – a play about an intimate subject deserves an intimate setting, and the smallness of the Darlo theatre lent itself well to the claustrophobic atmosphere, as did the continued presence of all four actors on stage. I thought the performances were mostly very good – Mathews in particular, with an honourable mention for Del Re. Goldspink couldn't really help what an enormous douche Brad was, I suppose, and for the brief minutes when Alston's Beth wasn't in tears she was good.
But the play just didn't live up to the billing. For me to really feel the pain of these characters – to feel it like Lloyd Bradford Syke did – I think I needed to like them a little bit, not spend the play pretty much wanting to punch them. And the ending... no. I'm writing a PhD thesis on romance novels, and it just totally smacked of that bit you get at the end of so many category novels where suddenly the hero and heroine have a baby, signalling their happily ever after. I didn't really feel like anything was resolved by the time David delivered his final 'BTW, we have a baby now and we are OMG SO HAPPY' monologue. In a way, this play touched on the least interesting aspect of adultery, and ended just where it should have begun. Breaking up is, in essence, the easiest part. It's what happens after that was interesting. The play was just beginning to touch on that with David and Beth looking at houses near the end. If the play had begun there, I think it would have been much more interesting.
Maybe it's because the last play I saw about adultery was Speaking In Tongues, which remains one of the greatest shows I have ever seen performed. But Orange Flower Water just did not live up to the hype for me. And to be honest, I feel pretty bad about it, because I love Darlo and I was really, really looking forward to this show. But I didn't feel it. It didn't get me deep in the pit of my stomach. It left me wondering what the hell I'd missed.