Last weekend, the St. Olaf Theatre Department premiered its newest show, The Love of Three Oranges, written by Carlo Gozzi and directed by Assistant Professor of Theater Jeanne Willcoxon. The show was done in the style of Commedia dell’Arte, a classic form of comedic troupe acting that reached prominence in 16th-century Italy think the street performers in movies such as Gladiator. In keeping with the Commedia dell’Arte traditions that inspired the production, Three Oranges is set up as a traveling show, each performance taking place at various St. Olaf locations and even a trip to the Carleton campus.
With auditions taking place at the beginning of the semester, the cast and crew had substantial time to build their show from the ground up.
“Early on in the rehearsal process we all read the script together as a group . . . and then we threw it away and never looked at it again,” cast member Matt Stai ’18 said.
The actors used the basic structure of Carlo Gozzi’s script more as a jumping off point to create an entirely unique show custom-fit to the specialties and talents of the cast.
These talents were on display even before performances began. For about 20 to 30 minutes before each show, a few members of the troupe would be out among the crowd to mingle with and entertain the waiting audience. These preshows included the acrobatics of Memo Rodriguez ’16, card-tricks performed by Francesco D’Aniello ’16 and the opportunity to take a selfie with actor Denzel Belin ’15. Also during this time, another cast member, Jenna McKellips ’16, offered every audience member a button that looks like an orange as a souvenir of the show.
“Come to three shows so you can get three orange buttons,” Belin said. “Then you can put on your own show called The Love of Three Buttons!”
Once it was time for the show to begin, the rest of the cast – all in clown get-up – flooded the performance area, prancing around and howling with exaggerated laughter. The play was introduced with a prologue delivered in character by Christine Menge ’18. She outlined the story of a prince, played by Shannon Cron ’15, who falls in love with three pieces of fruit. Though a relatively short play, with a runtime of about one hour, Three Oranges was not at all short on laughs. The charming comedy won audiences over.
The show leaves absolutely no time for boredom with a constant stream of unrelenting jokes and gags to accompany the wonderfully hammy plot. But what really sells the comedy is the top-notch chemistry between the actors that makes all of the character interactions truly come to life. Whether it is the bickering of the king’s advisors played by Nathan Aastuen ’17 and Stai, a magic battle between sorceress Fata Morgana played by Joey LeBrun ’15 and the Great Wizard Celio played by Noelle McCabe ’15 or a tap dancing competition between two country bumpkins played by Shannon Brick ’16 and Amy Jeppesen ’15, seeing the actors have as much fun performing as the audience had watching was definitely a treat.
The comedy was very well played, with gags ranging from playing around with a mannequin arm, to throwing confetti as an ineffective magic spell, to an entire scene performed as a puppet show. A couple of the jokes fell a tad flat, mainly the references to modern day pop culture. One such reference was a rant about Kim Kardashian’s eyebrows. Another was the cringe-inducing line: “My anaconda knows you twerk.” These seemed very out of place in a show of primarily zany, timeless comedy.
However, whenever these lulls occurred they never lasted more than a couple of seconds as the actors pushed through with the show and kept the laughs coming. Through the use of clever puns, rib-tickling physical gags, wacky props and the occasional musical accompaniment, the cast of Three Oranges created one of the funniest works on the Hill this year.
The Love of Three Oranges performs in venues big and small through the course of its tour. The venues do indeed impact the performances. Bigger venues, such as the Caf, draw much more energy from the actors, as they are fueled by the booming thunder of laughter inevitably produced by a larger audience. Smaller venues, on the other hand, are not quite as zany, but find value in a stronger connection between the actors and audience, facilitating subtler gags, such as Prince Tartaglia drawing hearts on fogged-up windows upon seeing his loves. Audiences are encouraged to attend more than one performance to get the full experience.
The Love of Three Oranges continues this weekend with a 7:30 p.m. show on Friday, Nov. 21 in Tomson Hall Atrium, and two shows on Saturday, Nov. 22 at 2:00 p.m. in the Ytterboe lounge, and 7:30 p.m. in Stav Hall.
Pro tip: sit in the front row, it’s even more fun!
Photo Credit: ASHLEY BELISLE/MANITOU MESSENGER