Ms. Taken Identity

Clever 'She Stoops to Comedy' Experiments With Identity and Gender at SF Playhouse

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Photo:    Photo: Handy men. Liam Vincent plays Alexandra Page and Scott Capurro plays actor Simon in SF Playhouse's 'She Stoops to Comedy.'   

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You've heard the story before: man loves woman, woman wants to break up, man dresses in drag and pretends to be the opposite sex to stay close to woman. But this man (Liam Vincent) just so happens to be a lesbian woman, an actress named Alexandra Page. She tells us from the outset that she is trying life as a man to be cast as Orlando opposite her girlfriend Alison (Sally Clawson), who will play Rosalind for a summer production of Shakespeare's "As You Like It."

The whole concept is initially confusing. Alex seems to be an overly flamboyant gay man until his archaeologist/lighting designer friend Kay returns from a dig and clarifies that Alex is, in fact, a woman. Now with an artificial "member" and hairy arms courtesy of Laurence Olivier's discarded shavings.

The play within a play in SF Playhouse's "She Stoops to Comedy" is deliberately self-conscious, referencing other productions and allowing the script to revise itself as the plot unfolds. A number of stock Shakespearean devices-gender-bending disguises, soliloquies and asides to the audience-create tension, dramatic irony and confusion. But as Alex claims, the story is "post-modern," "avant-garde" and "deconstructionist." She then undermines each of those categorizations with the dismissal "whatever that means." For yet another layer of self-awareness, one character films the company's summer revival for a "pseudo documentary on reality in the theater," a subtle wink at the audience suggesting that high-mindedness should not be taken too seriously; after all, it's just theater.

The story is inherently unrealistic, but that, of course, allows for the conflicts to reach a new level of farce, and the cast does a great job making what could be a messy and hard-to-follow plot remain clear and funny throughout. The set remains the same for the production: an indigo room with matching bed, stool and two chairs. Considering that the play moves across the country, into hotel rooms, a playhouse, a restaurant and the woods, it's an impressive feat to keep a brass bed center piece and make it work.

Toward the end of the comedy, all six cast members and seven characters finally appear together while actress Amy Resnick fights with herself as two polar halves of a lesbian couple. Resnick hilariously portrays both self-absorbed diva Jayne and archeologist/lighting designer Kay in an incredible display of character switching that earned her two eruptions of applause.

There are a few moments where the story's continuity is compromised by a smattering of serious scenes. Struggling gay actor Simon (Scott Capurro) delivers a dark monologue that reveals he has AIDS and believes his life to be one giant cliche. The contrived soliloquy makes you wonder if the subject matter might be trivialized by such an awkward placement. The same goes for the relationship between the director Hal (Cole Alexander Smith) and his assistant Eve Addaman (Carly Cioffi), but the fault lies not with the actors but in David Greenspan's otherwise admirable script.

Once again, SF Playhouse has staged an intelligent and witty comedy that addresses more than the hilarity suggests. The play is Shakespearean and thoroughly modern. For all its hyper-literariness, it manages to stay grounded by poking fun at self-aggrandizing intellectualism. After halting the humor to tackle weighty topics, "She Stoops to Comedy" resumes the laughter and suggests in the end that life can be serious business, so you might as well make light of it when you can.

Have Jennafer explain the play one more time at [email protected]

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