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COMIC LEWDNESS AND VENAL SIN : Three Cuckolds Has the Gusto, but Needs Pandemonium

October 25, 1990|JAN HERMAN | Jan Herman covers theater for The Times Orange County Edition.

In a move not exactly calculated to draw huge crowds, the Alternative Repertory Theatre in Santa Ana has mounted a play called "The Three Cuckolds," a Renaissance-style pageant of comic lewdness and venal sin.

The production, based on Leon Katz's 1986 adaptation of several 16th-Century commedia dell'arte sketches, features eight actors outfitted in evocative masks and colorful costumes. The roles consist of stock characters, including a roguish harlequin, lecherous and doddering husbands, shrewish and lascivious wives and the devil himself.

While scintillating performances are not ART's greatest strength (it can't afford to pay professional actors), this offering gets a central charge from Greg Izay. His lively portrayal of the clown Arlecchino has a certain piquancy.

Moreover, the cast plays its collective heart out with all the gusto of a troupe entertaining thousands though ART's storefront theatre seats only 61 people.

Still, "Three Cuckolds" could use more theatrical pandemonium to propel it beyond the ordinary.

There is an attempt at this with Flaminia, a vixen played with a deep-South accent by Louise Moore as a combination of Scarlett O'Hara and Blanche Dubois. But the result does not possess a high-octane thrill.

Katz writes in a program note: "The secret of commedia's art is in the head, the heart, the stomach and the behind. It's in the common wisdom of the victim, the underdog, the put-upon, who know all the hurts and love to see their familiar aches and pains in wild, in magical colors."

Of all the players, Michael Gafney as Zanni, an old and ignorant dupe, brings us closest to the common wisdom of the victim with his nattering and his gravelly voice. Patrick Brien as Pantalone, an overweening husband who gets his comeuppance, also engages us with moments of energetic stupidity.

While the production on the whole needs more potent comedy to sustain nearly 2 1/2 hours of plot convolutions, the show does provide top-notch design work. And it's possible that as the players loosen up during the run, "Three Cuckolds" will gain greater excitement.

Rounding out the company: Loretta Beaumont portrays Zanni's virago wife, Franceschina. Jennifer Myers Johnson plays Cintia, another young harridan married to Coviello, who is played by Phillip (Jake) Smith. Terry Gunkel doubles as the young lover Leandro and the devil.

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