In the age of AIDS, in an election year with the arts under assault, how should artists respond?
"Love of Three Oranges," a group collaboration at LACE conceived by Brian Kulick, created and performed by a talented young multiethnic ensemble, answers these questions even as it asks them. Form and content merge in a performance work of impressive sophistication.
The company takes a provocative classic--Carlo Gozzi's "L'Amore delle Tre Mellarance," a short comic play written in 1761, the source work for Prokofiev's opera--and plunders it for its relevance to our age. Gozzi's text was a reaction to his culture's growing interest in naturalistic, simplistic entertainments. In it, a prince is presented with extravagant pageants to cure him of chronic melancholy. This retelling turns its audience into latter-day princes, offering the work both as mirror of our afflicted culture and prescription for its ills.
The performers exude seriousness and confidence, but the production never becomes too self-conscious, thanks to the likable presence of Satori, who steps outside the action to serve as tour guide.
In the prologue, three performers (Ken Roht, Alissa Mello and Kenny Ransom), in various states of tattered undress, move and sing, lit by single bulbs they hold in their hands. Satori intercedes just as this starts to become too recondite, explaining why there are "three princes in their underwear rolling around on stage": "Brian (Kulick) is bored with European forms of art. Boredom is just a sophisticated form of anger; this play is an expression of his rage."
To cure the princes, entertainers are brought on stage bound and gagged; when unleashed, they perform politically and aesthetically confrontational work. Robbie Daniels, an eerily gaunt cross-dresser, sings, "Go ahead and call me . . . queer"; lithe Carol Cetrone dances sensually and Marcus Kuiland-Nazario, in drag, speaks in Spanglish and advises his audience "better get used to it."
In a hilarious sequence, our princes fall in love with European art, dancing frenetic ballets, screaming Hamlet's speeches and, in a tour de force of operatic excess by Ken Roht, seducing a gramophone that plays Bizet's "Carmen." This multi-sensual, multimedia barrage positions the audience in the direct path of its jugular assault: Elia Arce's wrenching final monologue--the production's only direct textual reference to current concerns.
By the end of "Love of Three Oranges' " irreverent breakneck path through a museum classic, we've gotten a fresh perspective on our world.
* \o7 "Love of Three Oranges," Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, 1804 Industrial St., Los Angeles. Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m. Ends Saturday. $8-$10; (213) 624-5650. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes.