REVIEW: Orange Flower Water (BackStage Theatre)

Troubled Relationships Lead to Family Trauma

Orange Flower Water (4 of 7)

BackStage Theatre Company presents:

Orange Flower Water


Written by Craig Wright
Directed by Jessica Hutchinson
Chopin Studio Theatre thru March 27th (more info)

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

If you’ve ever been part of an ugly breakup, then you probably know the mixed bag of emotions you feel toward your former partner once the relationship is severed. There’s the flood of anger fueled by the overpowering resentment. There’s the sadness felt through the mourning of something lost. And there’s the longing, the part of you that for some inexplicable reason no matter how poorly your partner treated you wants nothing more than for the two of you to be a happy couple once more.

Orange Flower Water (2 of 7)Often when such breakups are portrayed in drama, the scripts and/or the actors fail to do human nature and human emotion justice. Breakups are frequently portrayed as black and white. People are either in love or they are out of love. They either feel hatred, or they feel elated. And of course there’s always a bad guy—the evil lover—and the victim. None of this is real. None of this is true. And we all leave the theater feeling like we just watched some lifeless Lifetime movie that relates as much to us as a tree relates to a fish.

Fortunately BackStage Theatre’s production of Craig Wright’s Orange Flower Water does matrimonial unhappiness some justice. This is a story where perception is key, where bad guys and good guys are one in the same because such distinctions are not universal but rest in the eye of the beholder. This is a story that understands pain is sometimes necessary for love to flourish, and that life offers no easy answers or solutions.

The play is about two couples. Brad (Tony Bozzuto) and Beth (Shelley Nixon) are married with children. Their relationship is in shambles in large part to Brad’s obnoxious attitude. This is a man who proudly wears the label “asshole.” Beth meanwhile never thought the marriage was a good idea in the first place and now seeks the nurturing she craves from another man, David (Jason Huysman). David is married to Cathy (Maggie Kettering). Cathy is fairly deep in denial about the extent of David’s unhappiness in the relationship, which doesn’t bode well for when she finally finds out the truth of his infidelity.

Secrets are revealed and relationships that were once likely filled with tense silences overflow with shouting matches. After confronting Brad about the state of their marriage and confessing to the affair, Beth leaves, which leads to a drunken voicemail message to Beth via a monologue. Cathy, on the other hand, chooses to invert her anger and becomes a masochist, practically forcing David to have the most uncomfortable and least satisfying sex of his life.

As I watched the play, I couldn’t help but think of the award-winning television series “Six Feet Under”, which was famous for toeing the line of drama and comedy with absolute finesse. That’s why I was hardly surprised to find out Wright wrote for the show. His script is honest and touching without being sappy or contrived. He also inserts some powerful levity that spares the play from venturing into melodramatic territory, as well as painting each of his characters in both negative and positive lights, reserving the ability to judge for the audience.

Orange Flower Water (3 of 7) Orange Flower Water (7 of 7)

The acting is outstanding. Huysman plays David with a sincerity that makes it difficult to despise him for cheating on his wife. Meanwhile, Kettering plays Cathy as a soccer mom whose thinly veiled passive aggression is both true-to-life and comical. Nixon throws herself into the role of Beth. When the character displays her insecurity, Nixon is a lamb, but when Beth bares her teeth, the actress summons a lion’s fury. Bozzuto is incredible as Brad. His facial expressions, his mocking tone and the delivery of his lines is so specific. It’s difficult for me to conceive of anyone playing this role differently.

The only glaring flaw with Orange Flower Water is in the directing. The show is in the round and centered around a bed, which the characters rotate from scene to scene. Although this plays into the concept of perception, it also disrupts the view of the actor’s faces and movement. This wouldn’t be a big deal if the actors weren’t so good. But they are amazing, and they deserve to be seen clearly.

The other directorial miscalculation is with the use of transition music. In between scenes, as the actors regroup and the stage rotates, music with lyrics plays overhead. Any deep feeling achieved through the acting and story is immediately made shallow by the insertion of such a “Dawson’s Creek” convention.

Orange Flower Water is an honest portrayal of dishonesty in two relationships. It also is a lesson for the romantic that love often leaves a long and winding trail of pain in its path. With superb acting and an amazing script, this production is nearly perfect.


Rating: ★★★½


Orange Flower Water (6 of 7)


Cast & Crew


Jessica Hutchinson


Jessica has called Chicago home since January 2005.  Directing credits include Vox Pandora, The Dining Room, Six Years, and Touch for New Leaf Theatre, where she has served as Artistic Director since summer 2007. She acted as assistant to the director for The Crowd You’re In With (Goodman Theatre) and has worked with Caffeine Theatre, Rascal, and the Abbie Hoffman Died for our Sins and the 365 Day/365 Plays festivals.  This fall she’ll direct the world premiere of Bilal Dardai’s adaptation of G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday for New Leaf.


Tara Malpass

Stage Manager

Tara Malpass (Stage Manager) is very excited to be working with BackStage Theatre Company for the first time.  Recent works include Rewind with The Side Project, Plaza Suite with Eclipse Theatre, A Perfect Wedding, Escanaba In Love, Boy and Tent Meeting with Circle Theatre, and Rhymes With Evil, Intrigue with Faye, Creole and The Last Supper with InFusion Theatre Company.  Tara is a Company Member with Circle Theatre and InFusion Theatre Company.  Thanks to Steve for his love and support.


Tony Bozzuto


Tony is thrilled to be a part of another BackStage production.  He was last seen in the Jeff Recommended, On An Average Day.  For about seven years, Tony has been honored to work his way around the Chicago theatre scene with such talented companies as Lifeline Theatre, Next Theatre, Metropolis PAC and of course BackStage Theatre Co.  Whether on stage, television or film, Tony credits much of his skills and successes to his studies at the incomparable Hilberry Theatre in Detroit, MI, where he received his MFA.    Many thanks to Matthew Reeder for another great opportunity.


Jason Huysman













Maggie Kettering


MAGGIE KETTERING (Cathy) makes her debut at Backstage! A recent transplant to Chicago, she was recently seen as Lady Macduff at First Folio, and Sybil in PRIVATE LIVES (City Lit). She was a founding member and artistic associate of Mythmakers Theatre Company, where she appeared in Tartuffe, Medea, and The House of Atreus. Other favorite regional credits include: 9 Parts of Desire (Contemporary American Theatre Festival), Midsummer, As You Like It, Inherit the Wind (The Warehouse Theatre), and Taming of the Shrew, A Streetcar Named Desire, Uncle Vanya, Peter Pan, and the world premiere of Adrian Hall’s Savages, Christians & Other Homo Sapiens at the University of Delaware. She holds an MFA from the University of Delaware’s Professional Theatre Training Program.


Shelley Nixon

Former Artistic Director of Theatre for Young Audiences at Apple Tree Theatre, Shelley eagerly embarks on her first production with BackStage. She has recently taken a fun jaunt through Chicago short play and one-act festivals, appearing at The Artistic Home, The Side Project, American Theatre Company, and with Dramatis Personae at Strawdog Theatre. Other recent credits include work with Metropolis PAC and Emerald City Theatre. Shelley is a graduate of Bowling Green State University.

Megan E. Frei

Production Manager

Hailing from the ‘burbs of Detroit, Megan received a degree in Music Education from Central Michigan University while performing and working in the University Music and Theatre Departments, Highlands Playhouse (NC), and Vision Studio of Performing Arts (MI). Following, she served as Director of Vision for four fabulous years, began working as a freelance artist, and made her move to Chicago in 2004.  Megan is an in-demand teacher and director for a plethora of activities–voice, piano, acting, dance, musical theatre.  She also performs in various genres, settings and groups.  Favorite artistic experiences:  an intimate master class with the Ann Reinking; as CONNIE in Good News, directed by acclaimed August W. Staub; as BEBE in A Chorus Line, directed/choreographed by Emmy-award winning Linda Talcott-Lee; ZOMBIES FROM THE BEYOND! BSTC credits: Terra Nova (Flag Designer, Costumes), Anton in Show Business (CostumeDesigner), Denise Druczweski’s Inferno (Assistant Director,  Stage Manager/Board Operator), The Skin of Our Teeth (Production Manager, Co-Sound Designer,Co-Music Director, and MUSE), The Ruling Class (Music Director, Choreographer), Zombies from the Beyond (Director/Choreographer), On An Average Day (Props Designer); BSTC 2005–2006 and 2006–2007 seasons (Associate Artistic Director).

Heath Hays

Sound Designer

Heath is a BackStage Ensemble member, where he has designed set for On An Average Day, The Memory of Water, Beauty on the Vine, Bloody Bess and Zombies from the Beyond as well as the Jeff-recommended shows Waiting for Lefty and Medea.  He also designed sound for BackStage’s The Ruling Class and Seanachi Theatre’s drama Whistle in the Dark. He designed set for Infamous Commmonwealth Theatre’s Keely and Du, GreyZelda’s Jeff-recommended production of A View From The Bridge as well as their Desire Under the Elms, and Hell in a Handbag’s Caged Dames. Heath has also worked for Grounded Theatre, Arena Dinner Theatre, and Village Players.

Laura Kollar

Costume Designer

Laura hails from Atlanta, GA, but has lived and worked in the Chicago area since 2000.  After spending the fall working on projects in Maryland, Laura is delighted to be home and working on her first show with BackStage.   Recent designs include Gossamer for Adventure Stage Chicago, where she is an Ensemble Member, and Follies for Actors’ Theatre.  Her work has also been seen at Theater Wit, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre, Serendipity Theatre Collective, and North Park University.  Laura would like to thank Matt R. for bringing her onboard, her loving family, and most of all, Matt, for being her favorite.

Jessica Kuehnau

Co-Scenic Designer

Jessica Kuehnau is pleased to be designing her second show with Backstage Theatre since costuming On An Average Day last spring. As a recent graduate of Northwestern University, Jessica received her MFA in both set and costume design. Her Chicago credits include Rivendell Theatre (Jeff recommended These Shining Lives), Building Stage (Dracula), Pegasus Players (Ten Square, Jitney), and Steep Theatre (Parlour Song). She has also designed several productions with Adventure Stage Chicago (ensemble member), Griffin Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, MPAACT, and Metropolis Performing Arts Center. Jessica is currently the resident set designer and design professor at North Park University and full time teaching faculty at Northeastern Illinois University.

Jared Moore

Lighting Designer

Jared resides in Chicago where he has lit more than 150 shows, in a variety of genres, over the past seven years. He is a resident designer/artistic associate with the Hypocrites, NoMi LaMad Dance Inc., and New Leaf Theatre, of which he is a company member. His work has garnered him five Non-Equity Joseph Jefferson Awards for Outstanding Design and two After Dark Awards. His selected design credits have included Frankenstein, Oedipus, The Hairy Ape (Hypocrites); A House in Haifa (Next); The Man Who Was Thursday, Touch, The Permanent Way (New Leaf); Winter Pageant Redux, Twilight Orchard (Redmoon); Dark At the Top of the Stairs (ATC); Jerry Springer: The Opera, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Inventing Van Gogh, The Christmas Schooner (Bailiwick Rep); Twelfth Night (City Lit); Meet Me in St. Louis (Circle); Roasting Chestnuts (Noble Fool); Falsettos (Porchlight); Porno, Salome (Side Project); Sylvia (Metropolis); The Conversation, Misery (Pyewacket); Proof (Hippodrome State Theatre); and assistant designs at Drury Lane-Oakbrook, Marriott Lincolnshire, Chicago Shakespeare, and Writers’ Theatre. Outside his work in Chicago, he has had productions run Off-Broadway, in the NYC International Fringe Festival, Boston, Maine, Florida, & Georgia. He returns to Backstage Theatre after previously designing All Tied Up in Love at the Cornelia Arts Center in 2003.

Brandon Wardell

Co-Scenic Designer

Brandon Wardell is a freelance Lighting and Scenic Designer in Chicago. He earned his MFA from Northwestern University, teaches at several Universities, and is an Ensemble Member at Adventure Stage Chicago. Recent lighting credits include Aunt Dan and Lemon (BSTC), The Hollow Lands (Steep), On An Average Day (BSTC), The Arab-Israeli Cookbook (Theatre Mir), John & Jen (Appletree), and The Robber Bridegroom (Griffin Theatre). Scenic Designs include Maria’s Field (TUTA), In Arabia We’d All Be Kings (Steep Theatre), Holes (Adventure Stage), Dracula (The Building Stage), and Be More Chill (Griffin Theatre). Teaching credits include Northwestern University, Columbia College Chicago, The University of Chicago, Illinois Wesleyan University, and North Park University.

Tara Malpass – Stage Manager
Megan E. Frei – Production Manager
Heath Hays – Sound Designer
Laura Kollar – Costume Designer
Jessica Kuehnau – Co-Scenic Designer
Jared Moore – Lighting Designer
Brandon Wardell – Co-Scenic Designer

2 Responses

  1. […] Keith Ecker’s most recent review for the Chicago Theater Blog. It’s of a play called Orange Flower Water, and it’s produced by Backstage Theatre Company. Click the image to read […]

  2. […] Recommended – Chicago Theater Blog Highly Recommended – Steadstyle Chicago BACKSTAGE THEATRE COMPANY DIRECTED BY JESSICA HUTCHINSON […]

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