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Review: 'Oranges'a feast for the senses

Take a zany Saturday-morning cartoon, add some risqué humor and you get "The Love of Three Oranges," an unusual new production at Modesto Junior College.

Performed in the 500-year-old commedia dell'arte tradition, the show is unlike anything I've seen in the region in the past five years. While other groups have done commedia before, no one has taken it to this level, with masked actors, stylized poses and wildly exaggerated emotions.

Borrowing a line from the production, the result is like a "fairy tale on crack."

The wacky story centers on a sickly prince who refuses to smile or leave his bed. He is cured with laughter at a party but then is cursed by a witch, who makes him fall in love with three oranges in a distant land.

Based on an 18th-century play by Carlo Gozzi, the show was adapted by Hillary DePiano for modern audiences and includes references to movies, cell phones and pop-culture icons.

Directors Jim Johnson and Lynette Borrelli create a stage spectacle far exceeding anything seen recently at MJC. Fireworks erupt in a battle of sorcerers, disembodied hands emerge from a trap door, and a joust unfolds in slow motion.

In keeping with the commedia genre, the humor is decidedly lowbrow, with a nonstop parade of jokes about private parts and bodily functions. There's talk of a cook cleaning the stove with her breasts and some snarky comments about male genitalia.

After awhile, it can get tedious and make you want to groan. I'm not sure we really needed to see the prince's enema treatment.

Still, the cast members appear to be having so much fun on stage that it's hard not to get caught up in their playful spirit.

They rarely let their energy level flag, and for the most part, do a great job maintaining their cartoon personas.

Among the best are Steven Adkins, who turns histrionics into an art form as the prince, and Sean Trew, who combines excellent comic timing with balletlike grace as Truffaldino. Crystal Backoff also does some impressive maniacal laughing as the witch, Fata Morgana, and looks fabulous in her sparkling short dress and thigh-high boots designed by Jeff Carnegie.

Others who command attention include Bryce Duzan as the witty narrator, Joel Virgen as a snotty devil, Kara Ow as the witch's sassy assistant, Josh Avila as a hip-hop-loving gate and Michael Lynch as the prissy King of Hearts.

Keyboardist David Dow contributes clever musical accompaniment to establish the mood of each scene and fits in some familiar tunes, like an instrumental "Louie Louie" and the themes to "The Lone Ranger" and "Chariots of Fire." Lori Bryhni choreographs a humorous dance for the finale.

Adding to the production's whimsical tone are Anne Shanto's colorful costumes, Kevin Saunders' carnivallike lighting and Don Evans' sets, which include panels cut to look like playing cards.

The result of an intensive six-week commedia workshop, the production is a great example of what can be achieved with visionary leadership and adequate rehearsal time.

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 or lmillegan@modbee.com.

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