A well-produced play with advanced students is often a win-win: Young actors get to perform, and audiences get to see talented twentysomethings claim their place in the sun.
In the case of the American Conservatory Theater’s Master of Fine Arts Program actors, theatergoers also may earn the right to brag that they’ve seen the likes of Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Benjamin Bratt, Amy Irving, Marsha Mason or Danny Glover back in their school days.
The class of 2011 is strutting its stuff in a production of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” at the Zeum Theater.
Directed by ACT Associate Artistic Director Mark Rucker, with a cast also including veteran ACT actors Anthony Fusco (Touchstone) and Gregory Wallace (Jacques), the production features exemplary diction and strikingly talented students.
Ashley Wickett and Marisa Duchowny are Rosalind and Celia, who escape the court of the tyrannical Duke Frederick (one of the most thankless roles in Shakespeare) for the Forest of Arden.
There they find the exiled Duke Senior, Rosalind’s father — both Dukes are played by Brian Clark Jansen.
The dizzying combination of gender reversals follows. Rosalind, of course, becomes in disguise the macho Ganymede, pursuing Orlando (Max Rosenak) and being courted by the shepherdess Phoebe (Jenna Johnson) — both deceived and confused by the costume.
The obviously female Shinelle Azoroh plays three non-transgender male roles, while Joshua Roberts and Richardson Jones, both men, act in three male roles each.
Stephanie DeMott plays Adam, “a faithful old servant,” and Audrey, “a country girl.” And yet, as the Bard said somewhere else, all’s well that ends well.
The production on the tiny, extremely confined stage looks good, thanks to Liliana Duque-Pineiro’s imaginative scenic design (what a forest!) and Callie Floor’s costumes.
Still, can’t ACT find a real theater instead of the Zeum? It’s time to take back the former Stage Door Theater (now the Ruby Skye nightclub), half a block from the company’s home theater on Geary Street.
As You Like It
Presented by ACT Master of Fine Arts Program
Where: Zeum Theater, Fourth and Howard streets, San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes May 28
Contact: (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org