COLA Connections Newsletter: Summer 2017

Commedia dell'arte: The Love of Three Oranges

This spring, the College of Liberal Arts partnered with NTID to sponsor the performance of a special kind of theatre piece called commedia dell’arte. The play, titled The Love of Three Oranges by Hillary DePiano, is based on an 18th century story by Carlo Gozzi, centering on a prince who is cursed to fall in love with three oranges, who are princesses.

Commedia dell’arte literally means ‘professional comedy,’” says Melanie Blood, the play’s director. A professor of English and Music at SUNY Geneseo, The Love of Three Oranges is her third production at RIT, having previously choreographed Rocky Horror Picture Show in Fall 2015 and directed Midsummer Night’s Dream in Spring 2016. “Commedia dell’arte came from renaissance Italy. The actors that developed it were mostly illiterate, using material based on scenarios and character-types that were common in their day. There were characters who were authority figures, characters who were servants and there was always a pair of young lovers who would get together by the end of the play.  Everything else was improvised.” Like comedy today, there were also a lot of topical references. “They would go into towns and find out who the important people were, what the special events in that town were, anything that had happened locally, and it would get pulled into the play for improvised references that would resonate with that specific audience.”

The scenario used in The Love of Three Oranges was written by Carlo Gozzi in 18th century Italy, during a time when British dramas and the Italian improvised traditions were vying for superiority. The universities were trying to write everything down, to script all aspects of a play, while the professional actors who started the improvisation tradition were trying to maintain the commedia scenario structure. Gozzi championed maintaining the looser structure and wrote The Love of Three Oranges. The modern translation used in RIT’s performance is by Hillary DePiano, a theater professor at Bucknell University. Her translation is already a decade old, filled it with references that are no longer current or relevant to today’s audience. However, in true commedia dell’arte tradition, it was written directly into the instructions of the play that the scenarios are to be updated with themes from current events, politics, pop culture. RIT’s performance took the instruction to heart, updating the themes and play details, incorporating a lot of local and national references for its production.

The play ran for four nights in late April in NITD’s Panara Theatre. 

Photo Credit: Nic Minetor