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The Love for Three Oranges and
Fairest Flower of the South, or, To Know Her is to Love Her

SouthWest Rural Theatre Project


front: Tito Dameron; bottom row, left to right: Tamara Bailey-Curnow, Samaya Small, Teddy Eggleston, Anne Sheridan, Michelle Gallegos Top row, left to right: Joel Miller, Yvonne Mangrum, James Martel, Robert Lee, Wil Moore
If you're in the mood for some out-of-the-box theatre this spring, The SouthWest Rural Theatre Project is currently producing two one-act plays, each performed in a specific, historical theatrical style. The first, The Love for Three Oranges, demonstrates the style of commedia dell'arte, Italian sketch comedy that originated in the 16th century and features stock characters, masked performers, and minimal scenery (due to the fact that players often traveled and performed on outdoor, temporary stages). The second, Fairest Flower of the South, or, To Know Her is to Love Her, is a classic melodrama, a style that originated in the 18th century and is marked by exaggerated plots and characters and musical accompaniment, all with the goal of appealing to the audience's emotions. The plays run back to back and are directed by SouthWest Rural Theatre Project president Leslie Joy Coleman.

On the whole, Coleman's direction does well in capturing both of these historical styles. There are a few lulls during some of the set changes of Oranges; Coleman's "stage hands" are characters in their own right, a jesting duo in funny masks who entertain the audience while they move set pieces on and off stage. Some of their antics feel too long, though, taking almost more time to set up the scene than the scene itself takes to run.

The performance is not marketed as children's theatre, but each play is suitable for children; in fact, I'd recommend taking kids to the show. The Love for Three Oranges feels more like a children's piece, but this is not necessarily a bad thing: much of it is due to the style. The comedy is somewhat slapstick and the plot is simplistic, derived from a Southern European folktale. Fairest Flower invites audience participation, another throwback to the days of melodrama; audience members are invited to cheer for the hero and hiss (and throw marshmallows) at the villain. It's not your typical night at the theatre, but it makes for a fun, interactive theatrical experience, one that is well suited to the company's intimate performance space.

The energy and commitment of the actors make the performances worthwhile. The same cast portrays the characters in both plays, so you'll get to see different sides of their performance skills. I loved Tito Dameron as Truffaldino, the over-the-top court jester in The Love for Three Oranges. He's a relative newbie to the Albuquerque stage (Oranges is his third production at SouthWest Rural Theatre Project), but his energy and humor enliven the entire show. According to the program, he has experience as a swing dancer, and it shows: his great physicality makes him the perfect jester, and the perfect opposite to the melancholic Prince Tartaglia, played by James Hinds-Martel. Hinds-Martel embodies the prince's excessive dolefulness well enough, but I much preferred his portrayal of the villainous Horton Smedley in the melodrama. Hinds-Martel has mastered the comically cartoonish facial expressions of an evil villain, as well as the on-stage poise required to carry on with a scene while dodging marshmallows from audience members.

Other stand-outs among the cast include Joel D. Miller, who plays the sad king in Oranges and the delusional Colonel Culpepper in Fairest Flower (he thinks the Civil War still rages five years after the fact); he, too, brings great energy (and great accents) to his performance, especially as the Colonel—he alternates between polite Southern gentleman and sword-brandishing madman with good comedic timing. Michelle Gallegos is wonderful as the fainting, melodramatic heroine in Fairest Flower, oozing sweetness and innocence.

Overall, the cast clearly has fun with their roles and with each other, which makes an incredible difference for the audience's experience; when the performers are having fun, we have fun, too.

The Love for Three Oranges and Fairest Flower of the South, or, To Know Her is to Love Her runs at The SouthWest Rural Theatre Project (5800 Kathryn Avenue SE) through April 21st, Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 7:00pm, and Sundays at 2:00pm. General admission is $12, students and seniors are $10, and children under twelve are $8. Tickets are available at the box office or can be reserved by calling 505-717-4494. Visit swrtp.org for more information.

--Sarah Parro



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