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A New Play Explores the Secret, Imperfect Lives of Couples

State of the Arts


Published September 1, 2010 at 5:22 a.m.

Natalie Miller, Andrew Butterfield
  • Natalie Miller, Andrew Butterfield

There may be five weddings in Maura Campbell’s new play, Flower Duet, but this is not a story that romanticizes marriage. From the moment the play begins, a husband and wife are fighting — over a steak au poivre — and, like most tiffs in a couple’s kitchen, this one’s about a whole lot more than pepper.

“It’s about the way couples fight, when it can actually solve problems and when people use their words as weapons,” says the Burlington playwright. The play opens at the FlynnSpace next week and stars Andrew Butterfield, Mia Adams, Natalie Miller and Jordan Gullikson.

Pepper is definitely the least of this couple’s problems. They’re in an open marriage with plenty of rules, at least one of which the wife has broken by sleeping with someone in their social circle. Meanwhile, the man she’s cheating with is in a loveless marriage, and his 4-year-old daughter may have a neurological disorder.

One marriage survives the infidelity; the other falls apart.

Campbell says she’s been thinking about writing this play for at least 20 years. As a young married woman, she was devastated to watch couples she admired — marriages that looked so good from the outside — blow up in the face of infidelity. And then to see others somehow keep it together.

“These two couples look wonderful,” she says of her characters. “But the play begins, and the disintegration begins.”

The play’s title refers to the famous duet from the opera Lakmé by Léo Delibes, which the two wives are preparing to sing at a friend’s wedding. Pianist Michael Halloran, dressed in a tux, will accompany the women in some scenes, and will also play opera selections throughout the play.

When Campbell directs her own plays, as she does with Flower Duet, she usually ignores the stage directions she’s written. So this time she left them out of the script from the start. While she was at it, she didn’t bother with punctuation, either, which she says made the rehearsal process especially vibrant.

“The language became much more naturalistic, where you interrupt yourself and correct yourself,” she says.

It also heightens the sense of intimacy, Campbell says, which is already pretty intense in some scenes. The audience isn’t privy only to the characters’ fights but also to some of their sex. One scene takes place in a bathtub, where a couple is snapping photographs and making love.

“It isn’t a sex show, but there are some sexual situations and naked parts,” Campbell says. “It’s about the intimate lives of these couples.”

And, as with all couples, their lives — and marriages — are a lot more complicated than they seem.