Orange Flower Water
by Craig Wright
Presented at the Varscona Theatre
Jesse Gervais, Twilla MacLeod, Tracy Penner, and Mark Stubbings
Directed by Wayne Paquette
Production Design by Mike Takats
Stage Managed by Theresa Kind
Produced by John Sproule and Wayne Paquette
Photographs, Program and Poster Design by Martijn Magill
Archival Photographs by Bonnie Takats
Nominated for 1 Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award
Outstanding Supporting Actress (*Winner: Twilla MacLeod)
“Happiness Always Comes With A Price”
Edmonton Journal Best Production of 2007 – 2008 Season
by Liz Nicholls
This is the season that was… (Excerpt)
Saturday, June 21, 2008
One was Wayne Paquette`s tense and harrowing production of Orange Flower Water, a quartet for two fractured marriages by Craig Wright (of Six Feet Under fame). Under Paquette`s direction, four electric young actors let themselves probe the awful contradictions of being grown-ups – wanting adventure and security, responsibility and spontaneity – at this moment in the history of the world. One of those live theatre evenings whose second to second pulse quickens your own.
Edmonton Journal Best Performances of 2007 – 2008
Twilla MacLeod and Mark Stubbings
Vue Weekly Best and Worst in Theatre (Excerpt)
by Dave Berry
BEST: Wayne Paquette stepping out
His Fringe productions have garnered a lot of acclaim, but Paquette is finally getting into the main season. His independent production of Orange Flower Water was the most subtle, incisive, challenging play of the year, and he did a bang up job with spot work at Shadow theatre and the Citadel, where he deserves to have his load increased. With more exposure, Edmonton will soon have another Wayne to call great.
THE EDMONTON JOURNAL – Liz Nicholls
If Craig Wright’s Orange Flower Water were just another reminder, courtesy of the live theatre, that adulterous affairs complicate life, you’d stay home and watch your neighbours.
As it is, though, this tense and startlingly raw little quartet for two marriages and one affair takes hold of you by the throat, and literally makes you breathless with its surprises, its probing spirit, its embrace of human contradictions. Not to mention its heat, and its toughness. More than enough reasons to venture into the theatre, as Wayne Paquette’s powerhouse production, beautifully designed by Mike Takats, confirms.
Wright you’ll know by his writing credits on some of the most sophisticated television of recent memory: Six Feet Under, Lost, Dirty Sexy Money. There’s a certain intelligent wryness and irony that glints through the writing here; it’s all about capturing the moment-to-
moment pulse of life, and only occasionally seems written, a sign of skill in theatre-writing circles. Even at the extremities of rage and passion, the characters surprise themselves with their thoughts and reactions. They’re struggling to find their footing; the upper hand is long gone. It’s scary, and exciting, to watch four first-rate young actors take huge risks. That kind of bravery is what live theatre is for.
David (Jesse Gervais) and Beth (Tracy Penner), unhappily married both, are having an affair behind the backs of their spouses Cathy (Twilla Macleod) and Brad (Mark Stubbings). They have kids, five between them, and doubts, multiple, as you discover in the nerve-wracking nearly-sex Scene 2. But “do you really love me as much as you think you do?” wonders Beth, torn between excitement and misery. “I think so,” says David, arguing for the compulsive illogic of happiness.
How do you know if love is real? How do you know if you’re making a mistake correcting a mistake? These are questions for grown-ups. And, as Beth says near the end of Orange Flower Water, “it’s all so hard.”
If Orange Flower Water were predictable in either its morality or its form, you’d have a play about love versus duty, or love trumping guilt and regret, or self-sacrifice. And the jilted spouses would be cliche buffoons. It’s a measure of Paquette’s direction and the fearless way his actors throw themselves into the fray, that the scenes involving Stubbings and Macleod, allegedly the supporting players, are so memorable.
You’re ready to write off Brad on report: the beer-guzzling, slightly thuggish guy’s guy. The blend of comic menace and provocation that Stubbings plays so wonderfully in a scene with Gervais’s disconcerted David — two dads at a kids soccer game — offers another insight. Then, in an electrifying reinvention of the classic “this marriage is done; I’m leaving” scene with Beth, Stubbings blows all expectations of the shallow guy right out of the water in an explosion from the emotional depths: pain, fury, smarts, a hugely unexpected kind of purity.
Same thing with Macleod’s Cathy, self-possessed, controlling, conventional. Or so you’d think. David’s exit from their marriage turns out to be the most surprising, weirdly apocalyptic sex scene (long and nude) you’re going to see onstage. Wild lashings of passion and grief, a scorching kind of courage … the character will rattle your rib cage; the actor is amazing.
Penner and Gervais are less vivid. But then they’re the characters scrabbling through the murky motifs of adult life to find a joint theme song. Gervais brings his uncanny sense of comic timing to bear on the man who’s figured out what he wants, till he gets it and understands the price tag. Penner captures the combination of prickly and confused, the moral doubt in which Beth flails. The show’s most “written” observations, the shortfall of religious certainty in real life, fall to her. And, I think, it’s not her fault if they’re jarring.
The title — referencing a Bon Appetit-type flavour no one actually uses, as Beth points out — I cannot explain. It seems to be a metaphor. All I can tell you is that it scents the ending with uncertainty on the fault-line between real life and fantasy. Discuss amongst yourselves.
THE EDMONTON SUN – Colin MacLean
Craig Wright’s Orange Flower Water is the tough story of two people married to the wrong partners. It begins with an affair and follows, in wrenching detail, the destruction of two families. This is not a theatrical entertainment but it is a gripper.
“I feel like I’m alive when I’m with you,” murmurs one of the clandestine lovers.
The two decide that the only course for them is to leave their families and make a life together. The rest of the play concerns the huge emotional cost of their actions. The whole affair is ineffably sad and Wright, who wrote for television’s Six Feet Under and is currently the producer of Dirty Sexy Money, doesn’t let us off the hook through the whole intense and painful experience.
The playwright usese graphic language, fearless nudity, and considerable sexual heat to telling effect.
Director Wayne Paquette wisely (and artfully) sets the course and leaves it up to his performers. Jesse Gervais is David, the father of three children and husband of Cathy (Twilla MacLeod), who loves him. Tracy Penner is Beth, unhappily married to the crass Brad (Mark Stubbings).
The actors work at such dramatic intensity that you can’t help but be drawn into their pain. Penner particularly winds herself into such an emotional pitch that you fear for her ability to bring herself back. This is a rough journey but, for those willing to go along, it’s a riveting, vivid experience.
4 out of 5 Suns.
VUE WEEKLY – David Berry
Now four plays into its lifespan, Wayne Paquette and John Sproule’s Blarney Productions has mastered the art of finding drama without making it so damn dramatic. Due in large part to Paquette’s skilled direction, their latest, Orange Flower Water, is an almost perfect example of such: it’s a play about a cheating couple, a work that frequently explodes into screaming matches and one in which its characters wield sex like a lethal weapon, and yet Paquette never lets it get out of hand, never lets his actors indulge a grander gesture or more emphatic reading, instead letting tension and emotion build through his scenes, so when they do finally reach their tipping point, we see people going through these situations, not actors.
Orange Flower Water revolves chiefly around David (Jesse Gervais) and Beth (Tracy Penner), two thirtysomethings who seem to have found a profound, lasting connection, albeit one that has been lived out in illicit makeout sessions and clandestine coffee dates, hidden from their respective spouses. One of the chief strengths of Craig Wright’s script is the fact that, though they do debate the morality of what they’re doing, David and Beth are largely left to inhabit a decidedly grey ethical world: there’s clear indications throughout that being together might actually be the right choice for the pair, though it exists side-by-side with the suggestion that they are just as much at fault, if not more so, than their maligned spouses for the state their marriage is currently in, and an explanation of why the affair is actually wrong beyond simplistic notions of loyalty or making a promise.
And from that ambiguous though potent base, Paquette and his cast build something quite special. Just as often awkwardly funny as they are touchingly heartfelt or outright enraged, they create a mileu that feels almost uncomfortably close to real life, pretense dropped in favour of emotions and inner psychologies made flesh and blood.
Though the men certainly hold their own—Mark Stubbings is wonderfully blunt as Beth’s husband, as helplessly prickish as he is hopelessly lost—this play really belongs to Penner and Twilla Macleod, both of whom give astonishingly nuanced turns. Macleod, as David’s severely put-upon wife Cathy, teases incredible depth out of the suburban working mom: at times she’s deeply in love with her husband and her life, at others she’s no longer able to turn the subtle but sharp resentment she feels from David into something productive, and she responds with exasperated and perhaps even exaggerated bitterness. A scene where she and Gervais deal with the revelation of the affair is absolutely staggering: Cathy basically rapes him, but Macleod manages to make it an act of desperation and longing as much as power, and her body language and inflection throughout is somewhere uncomfortably between sex kitten and sex predator.
Better still is Penner, though, as the more troubled half of the philanderous couple. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Beth is both more aware that the affair might just be escape wrapped in romance and more desperate to have it be real, constantly searching David for signs of true commitment. Penner plays this tension beautifully, first in an early scene that features Beth and David consummating the affair, then later in an icy conversation with Cathy near the end. In the former, she is almost childlike in her need for reassurance, seeming to be scared more of abandonment than the religious reasons she brings up, while in the latter she honestly seems to see something of herself in Cathy, and any hostility between the two is quickly undercut by a confused compassion between the two.
That such depth is explored so ably is a testament to Paquette’s abilities as much as his actors, and it makes Orange Flower Water one of the best plays of the season.
SEE MAGAZINE – Scott Lingley
“This is not fun,” says David Larson (Jesse Gervais), one half of the adulterous couple that motivates the drama in Craig Wright’s Orange Flower Water. He’s in the middle of a shitty, irrational arguement with Beth Youngquist (Tracy Penner) about their future together, which is really just an occasion for him to say aloud all the resentful things he’s been thinking since their affair became known to both David’s brainy, brittle wife Cathy (Twilla MacLeod) and Beth’s loutish husband Brad (Mark Stubbings). No fun at all.
Arguably, Orange Flower Water – the mainstage maiden voyage of Wayne Paquette and John Sproule’s Blarney Productions – is not about fun. It’s mostly about how awful people feel even when they’re doing what they think is best for them.
Orange Flower Water presents a heap of challenges to director Paquette and his young but seasoned cast. The characters, the situations, the high emotional pitch of the whole play, if poorly handled, would be intolerable. Selfish people and the terrible things they do and say to get what they want – who wants to watch that for 90 minutes? Fortunately, Paquette and his cast seize on the play’s grim wit and the characters’ yearning for connection and meaning as the discord they sow.
The story unfolds as a series of long exchanges between pairs of characters – duets of discomfort, if you will. There are harrowing fights and sexual confrontations charged with anger and recrimination, painful small talk that gives way to even more painful frank talk and the overarching sense that, right or wrong, everyone involved is losing something irrevocably.
These vignettes flow seamlessly with dreamy musical interludes in which the drama’s participants rearrange themselves onstage, and everyone at some point recites a note he or she has written that hints at the tenderness and generosity buried by years of stagnating marriage.
The performances and direction are uniformly fine, bringing a ring of truth to scenes in lesser hands might otherwise seem histrionic or calculated to provoke. Wright, best known as a writer for TV shows like Six Feet Under and Lost, gets a little heavy-handed in his attempts to establish a metaphysical underpinning to all the angst, but Penner and MacLeod in particular temper the script’s more ponderous tendencies with raw, real characterizations.
Stubbings, whose role is relatively small, is no less adept at locating the soul of the self-professed prick Brad than Gervais is as exposing the inner prick concealed in ostensible gentle soul David.
Tough as it often is to watch, Orange Flower Water is a promising start to Blarney Productions’ collective career. You’ve caught my attention with one intelligent, challenging show – now let’s see what else you can do.
THE EDMONTON JOURNAL – Liz Nicholls
Paquette in from the Fringes
There’s the hoary old multi-purpose punchline, “but what I really want to do is direct,” as applied to careers from the papacy to porn. Ba-da-boom. But seriously, people, where do our exciting theatre directors come from?
Edmonton audiences already know that actors get the urge. James MacDonald and John Kirkpatrick, for example, stars of Free Will Players’ River City Shakespeare Festival, stepped out of their light to launch directing careers in the great outdoors. The Fringe, too, is a veritable wonderland for the actor-turned-director, experimentally turning a hand to career expansion.
Marianne Copithorne, both Lady Macbeth and Little Red Riding Hood in her time, has turned out to be one of this theatre town’s smartest directors. Shadow’s John Hudson, too, is an actor by trade. So is Julien Arnold of the newly formed Atlas Theatre Co-op.
And there are notable examples here of playwright-directors: Teatro La Quindicina’s Stewart Lemoine for one; Northern Light Theatre’s Trevor Schmidt for another, the latter also an actor and designer.
Even by the standards of this variety in genesis, the director of Orange Flower Water, a heart-stopping drama of marital realignment, has unique theatrical roots. Wayne Paquette is a top-drawer stage manager by trade.
At 32, the soft-spoken, courteous Paquette is one of Edmonton theatre’s rising stars — exclusively behind the scenes. Which is the way he likes it. “What I love to do is to be able to immerse myself, dig, bring out something that’s real,” he says of the rehearsal hall, his favourite place in the theatre.
Paquette is downright stage-shy. In fact, his brother is getting married next month, “and I have to make a speech, and I’m dreading it. Ooooo, performance,” Paquette grimaces, and grins. “We’re a low-key, blue-collar family.”
Three summers ago, the career stage manager directed Afterplay, by the Irish dramatist Brian Friel. Paquette’s heartbreaking production, a gem of emotional detail, won him the “outstanding Fringe director” Sterling Award. A new career was officially born, in parallel to the old.
Paquette had studied drama at the University of Alberta, with brief thoughts of being an actor, as he admits, slightly abashed. “Too young and too stupid,” he grins. “I started to watch other actors instead of focusing….” For Paquette, who’d dreamed as a kid of making movies, the lure of stage management was that “I wanted to be in a theatre all the time, not occasionally, not two shows a year.”
After his pro debut, stage managing the Shadow premiere of David Belke’s The Minor Keys, Paquette quickly found himself working in theatres all over town. He became Shadow’s resident stage manager, and worked on intricate small-cast dramas. He worked on big Citadel musicals like Grease, West Side Story, Peter Pan, Oliver! All the while he was watching, and learning from, all kinds of directors — screamers, wheedlers, visionaries, conceptualists, jargonistes, theoreticians, pragmatists.The rehearsal hall, he says, “was my classroom. I was there to see directors talk to actors, or to the stage manager, or the creative team. I’d see (the director’s) frustrations, joys, assessments: ‘OK, today didn’t work, how do we strategize for tomorrow?’ ”
Meanwhile, Paquette’s attraction to emotionally intricate, “difficult” plays like The Christian Brothers or Madagascar, both of which he directed at the Fringe, continued. And so did his idea that actors in rehearsal should be surrounded by “the world of the play,” via music, pictorial images, books. For Orange Flower Water, with its pair of marriages unravelled by an adulterous affair, he picked the sounds of Sigur Ros, an Icelandic dream-rock band. And he brought in Edward Hopper paintings, with their “eerie spaces between people in a room.”
“This is what it feels like to be in this world,” he tells his actors, as he invites them to “bring in their own experience.” Coralie Cairns, who starred in Madagascar, reports that “when you come into a Wayne rehearsal, what fills the room is the play.”
Sproule, his partner in Blarney Theatre, their joint venture making its mainstage debut with Orange Flower Water, says: “I think Wayne’s experience as a stage manager is extremely beneficial in that he has watched actors a lot — how they work, when things click, when things mess up, when you can’t remember your lines because you don’t have a firm foundation on what is happening.”
Sproule adds: “Wayne is a ‘lead by example’ type person; it makes you work harder that he’s extraordinarily prepared, so you feel guilty if you don’t step up.” Cairns concurs. “The amount of homework Wayne does is amazing.” What strikes her, too, is “the respect he gives to everyone’s craft.”
We’ll be seeing more of Paquette — his directorial work, that is, and not his quiet self — at the Fringe this summer. And he’s the Citadel’s new artist-in-residence, assistant director of shows at Edmonton’s largest theatre next season.
Meanwhile, there’s a play — written by Craig Wright (of Six Feet Under and Lost fame) — with its share of dark emotional resonances, captured at nine “transitional moments” in the lives of the four characters. “None of the people in Orange Flower Water is stupid,” says Paquette. “They’re all strong people, and all at the cusp of being all grown up, but not quite there. They’re big kids. At 30-something, they still want the adventures, the feelings they had when they were younger.”
He sighs, and smiles.
“Sometimes I feel like that’s where I’m at, too.”
VUE WEEKLY – David Berry
Your cheating heart: Orange Flower Water gets under the skin of an affair
Though Wayne Paquette has many strengths as a director—not the least of which is a sharply intelligent but casually affable nature that comes out whether or not he’s running scene suggestions by you—one of his biggest talents to date has been picking scripts. With Blarney Productions—the company he co-founded three years ago with acting veteran John Sproule—he has brought Edmonton’s Fringe some of its sharpest, most refreshing plays of the last few years, from the meta-character ruminations of Afterplay to the piercing humanity of The Christian Brothers (both of which garnered Paquette Outstanding Director Sterlings) to the swirling relationship drama of last year’s Madagascar, Paquette has ensured that Blarney is synonymous with thoughtfully provocative modern theatre.
That trend continues with his first foray on to the seasonal mainstages, Craig Wright’s Orange Flower Water. Following an extramarital affair as it inches inexorably towards hitting the light of day, the play is a slow-burning, incisive look at the consequences of relationships on the people in them, a play more visceral and ambiguous than most that come across Edmonton’s stages.
For his part, Paquette is glad to be bringing something that pushes people out of their comfort zones in the theatre, something he freely admits—somewhat anachronistically for someone as, if not exactly meek, then certainly reserved as Paquette—has been a goal of his since he and Sproule first got Blarney going.
“There’s stuff in this play that I don’t think people have seen a lot of,” he says with an earnest thoughtfulness, though he also stresses that, as much as it approaches them differently, the play deals with familiar ideas and themes. “I definitely relate to the struggles of the characters—which is how I usually pick plays, actually. These are people sitting on the cusp of childhood and adulthood, and the play really looks at what that brings, and how people look at you when you’re at that point, and what it means to become respected and responsible.”
Dealing with life’s inescapable changes seems to be a theme particularly close to Paquette’s heart, from Afterplay’s displaced theatrical characters to Christian Brothers’ troubled priest. In Orange Flower Water, that change is explored through the affair carried on by David (Jesse Gervais) and Beth (Tracy Penner); as much as it is a meditation on love and interpersonal relationships, it’s also an exploration of increasing responsibility, as the toll the affair takes on their day relationships begins to weigh on them, and they’re forced to face the consequences of a choice that, despite more standard morality, might actually be the right one to make.
For Paquette, this is a poignant dissection of the choices we all have to make as we grow up and (presumably) become more responsible: eventually we have to come to terms with the fact our choices affect other people, and not always in the way we’d like.
“I think hurting people is something we don’t want to do, but it just happens: as much as you want to be a good person and make the right choices, ultimately you have to make choices for yourself, you have to look out what’s best for you,” he explains. “It’s messy, and nothing in life is easy choices, but it’s all about your choices, in the end. “You choose this and it’s going to lead down this road, and if you go down that road, you’re going to be hurting people,”Paqeutte continues. “Everyone in the play gets to a place of learning something new. They get to a place where they go, ‘I’ve made choices for myself, but I have a responsibility to other people, I accept other people.’ There is a cause and effect: you have to look after other people, sometimes they need that. That’s a big thing about accepting responsibility, and it’s not an easy choice at all.”