THEATER It's hardly news, but holiday shows can be fairly dreary treats. Given such periods of seasonal affective disorder as the theater may present, it's a genuine surprise and pleasure to discover the wit and wile strutting the boards at SF Playhouse tucked into a far corner of Union Square somewhere just north-by-northwest of that big Christmas tree where the season offering is a sparkling production of David Greenspan's She Stoops to Comedy.
Mercifully, the plot has nothing to do with yuletide or smiling through a bad case of rickets. Instead, it concerns a lesbian stage actress named Alexandra Page (male actor Liam Vincent) who decides to disguise herself as a man and try out for Orlando in a summer stock production of Shakespeare's As You Like It, in order to play opposite her estranged lover, Alison (Sally Clawson), in the part of Rosalind another cross-dresser twice over since Shakespeare's character is a woman disguised as a man in a part played, historically, by a boy. Playing opposite, in short, is just what Alexandra does, convincing everyone she is a man including a besotted middle-aged gay actor named Simon Lanquish (Scott Capurro) while spying on and ultimately seducing, in seemingly old heterosexual fashion, her charmed lover and costar.
Meanwhile, other romances abound in ways at least as complicated: Alexandra's ambitious young director Hal (Cole Alexander Smith) and creatively frustrated assistant-and-girlfriend Eve Addaman (Carly Cioffi) balance careers and romance in precarious turn. And a highly affected actress named Jayne Summerhouse (Amy Resnick) seeks to rekindle an old flame with her seeming-opposite of the same sex: the literally down-to-earth archeologist Kay Fein (Amy Resnick) an encounter that promises sparks, not least because it features only one actor.
But gender, identity, and blocking aren't the only challenges put forth by Greenspan's play. In She Stoops to Comedy, even the script is up for grabs, rewriting itself as it goes along through the caprice of characters who are liable to speak to, as much as from, their respective roles. (Kay, for instance, changes decades and job titles with relative ease.) Cunningly employing Shakespeare and other literary touchstones in particular a 1910 play by Ferenc Molnár called The Guardsman She Stoops traipses over aesthetic and even philosophical ground after its carefree but astute fashion. It's a self-consciously theatrical enterprise that gleefully eschews expectations, squirming pleasantly under the usual theatrical artifice as if looking to satisfy a really good itch.
A dazzling bit of low-key stagecraft, She Stoops is a tall order for any company. In director Mark Rucker's staging, the action comes off as a pitch-perfect balance of wit and wonder, a loving riff on acting, connecting, and the role of the imagination in art and life. Heady and hilarious at once, it's metatheater with a pulse, sporting plenty of fine opportunities for an exceptional cast beginning with Liam Vincent, whose poise and subtlety in the lead are perfection and including a couple of memorable scenes of actorly pyrotechnics exquisitely realized by Capurro and Resnick, respectively.
SHE STOOPS TO COMEDY
Through Jan. 9
Tues., 7 p.m.; Wed.Sat., 8 p.m. (also Sat, 3 p.m.), $40
533 Sutter, SF