'Burning the boards' at New Century

The exciting new theater company mounts its second show at ACT, bringing Craig Wright's play about adultery, Orange Flower Water, to a fierce emotional pitch.
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Hans Altwies and Jennifer Lee Taylor in 'Orange Flower Water'

The exciting new theater company mounts its second show at ACT, bringing Craig Wright's play about adultery, Orange Flower Water, to a fierce emotional pitch.

There'ꀙs a problem with reviewing theater when a truly outstanding production comes along. It'ꀙs hard to amplify one'ꀙs praise enough to do it justice. I will now try.

I strongly urge you to see Orange Flower Water, playing through July 20 in ACT'ꀙs Bullitt cabaret venue. The show is the second production from New Century Theater Company, which mounted last fall'ꀙs lauded The Adding Machine. You will see four talented actors at the height of their powers display unreserved, fierce determination and emotional nuance.

The French have a phrase for it: 'ꀜbruler les planches," to burn the boards; these actors are on fire, to a degree you will rarely experience. Allison Narver directs them with exceptional deftness: more on this below. The playwright Craig Wright has been widely produced elsewhere but, unaccountably, not up to now in Seattle. If you miss seeing this production, you will miss a very fine evening of theater.

The subject matter is marital infidelity. There'ꀙs a great deal of graphic, though not prurient, intimacy seen close at hand, and some vehement cussing. The play butts up against Pinter'ꀙs Betrayal, staged earlier this year at the Seattle Rep, and against Albee'ꀙs contentious domesticities; but Wright'ꀙs characters are not portentous or besotted. The author wrote a few episodes for the TV show Six Feet Under, and there is some shared flavor of household dysfunction, but Orange Flower Water is a leaner tale. The script will not be to everybody'ꀙs taste — too emotionally reductive or physically racy — but it is a solid work.

The brisk, brief, break-free production leaves you wanting more. What could have been misdirected into a stultified bedroom drama, replete with over-emoting and static staging, is instead engaging throughout in the ever-capable hands of Ms. Narver.

It'ꀙs mounted 'ꀜtennis court'ꀝ style, a sure way to my heart: the audience sits on two facing sides of the playing space, here a square with the other two edges blocked off by tall flats. The set is very simple, and quite adequate; the cast fully inhabits its close space. They sit their corners like boxers, sling one another around in little explosions, deliver their lines with painful clarity. The contained playing area and low seat count protect them from the need to boom out the text, and this serves the script'ꀙs intimate scenes: the actors can husband their power and unleash it on one another.

The timing of the show is fortuitous, with gubernatorial and senatorial infidelity once again in the news. The endless parade march of Gov. Sanford of South Carolina and his fellows in adultery fires up our worst gossip-and-scandal tendencies; such tabloid amplification inures us to the painful private cost of broken vows and homes. Orange Flower Water brings it up close and personal. One wishes that all electeds would be obliged by statute to attend the show. That would serve the dual purpose of holding up a mirror for their edification and increasing government support for the arts.

On that note, it'ꀙs worth reflecting on the economics of this production, which cost around $45,000 to mount including union wages to artists and stagehands. A typical regional theater'ꀙs annual budget could support well over 100 such productions.

New Century Theater Company'ꀙs model is one that can be replicated. The company is a performer-driven ensemble in which the actors have a voice and a stake. They work in a small house so the actors don'ꀙt have to struggle to project, and they avoid a costly sales and management infrastructure. Prices are low: $25 a ticket. That said, NCTC cannot continue indefinitely without a step up in community recognition and support, but they are working hard to generate just that. You can help by going and investing in your own theater-going future.


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