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Robert Abid in Forbidden Fruit
Forbidden Fruit is alternately hilarious and frustrating. Written and directed by Jeff Bedillion, it features an appealing cast, a plethora of witty one-liners, and refreshingly quirky staging choices. However, the show -- with a running time of close to three hours -- is bogged down by too much exposition, an unoriginal plot, and several song-and-dance numbers that simply don't work.

The central characters are Christian (Joel M. Peterson) and Brian (Josh Berresford), a gay male couple first seen at Brian's art exhibition opening at the top of the first act. Most of the ensuing scenes are flashbacks that chronicle the lives of the two men prior to their first encounter. Christian's narrative deals with his struggle with his sexuality and his attempt to come out to his devoutly religious mother (Kurt Alger in a gender bending performance). This story treads familiar ground and Peterson's acting is often wooden and unconvincing. Interestingly, he is at his best in the character's most highly emotional moments; he shines in a scene where he's held naked in the arms of a mysterious masked man (Erick C. Thorsen), calling out to God for deliverance. (Christian has an active fantasy life tinged with religious guilt.)

Christian's scenes are often punctuated with musical numbers led by Alger, who doubles as the production's choreographer. Unfortunately, the original music of Ethan Hein fails to distinguish itself, Alger's singing needs work, and the cast appears underrehearsed in most of the lackluster dances. Cutting most, if not all, of these sequences -- none of which advance the plot -- would greatly benefit the show.

Brian's scenes, which alternate with Christian's, show his breakup with girlfriend Lisa (Katharine Heller) and their mutual sexual attraction to Brian's best friend, Michael (Robert Abid). The love triangle is depicted through a variety of sight gags and inventive staging. For example, one sequence features Brian and Michael wrestling, complete with tight-fitting uniforms (the delectable costumes are by Lynn Wheeler) and a ball-busting coach (Claysey Everett) whom they conjure up from their childhood memories. It's way over the top and immensely entertaining.

The show contains a fair amount of nudity (both male and female), but most of the sexier sequences have the actors at least partially clothed. An encounter between Michael and Lisa in the food court of a mall becomes both sensual and hilarious when they start conversing as if they were in a low-budget porn flick. Tacky red lighting, courtesy of designer Anna Peterson, helps set the mood while a fan brought in by one of the company members blows Lisa's hair around, enhancing the come-hither look she shoots at Michael.

Heller demonstrates superb comic timing and Abid possesses a wide-eyed openness that is absolutely adorable. Berresford also scores, exuding a neurotic charm that keeps the audience invested in his character's journey. The problem is that the journey takes too long and, when Christian and Brian finally do come together it is unclear why they are instantly attracted to each other. Granted, the circumstances surrounding their meeting -- which should not be revealed in a review -- may have put them in a heightened emotional state. Still, Forbidden Fruit comes to such an abrupt resolution that it makes you question the play's elaborate setup.

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