Comedy show dives beneath the script

There’s a two-character scene in the middle of David Greenspan’s hilarious, gender-bending, meta-theatrical comedy in which local treasure Amy Resnick plays both characters simultaneously.

They’re female lovers having a spat. One’s an affected, pretentious actress, Jayne, and the other a butch geologist, Kay. Or, perhaps she’s a lighting designer; the “playwright” has rewritten her role. “I’m a character in fiction,” she says, sighing.

That scene is so cleverly written and so smoothly and enchantingly performed by Resnick that it’s practically worth the price of admission alone.

The rest of “She Stoops to Comedy” at SF Playhouse is just as good.

Greenspan, whose “Dead Mother” at The Jewish Theatre last season was equally offbeat and funny, stays one step ahead of the audience all the way, briskly deconstructing the art of playwriting and challenging our received wisdom about the concept of theater altogether.

Scenes morph into one another in dreamlike ways. Characters blithely manipulate the action, explain the play’s theatrical devices to the audience and contradict themselves.

When actress Alison (a charmingly open-faced Sally Clawson) leaves for Maine to play Rosalind in “As You Like It,” her lover, actress Alexandra, is lonely and uneasy about the stability of their relationship.

So she disguises herself as a man to audition for the role of Orlando in the same production, playing opposite Alison, who, in true Shakespearean fashion, not only doesn’t recognize her but also develops a crush on her — thinking she’s a he, which actually he is. He’s played with wonderful, low-key nonchalance by Liam Vincent.

“What is it with contemporary theater?” gripes Resnick’s Kay — this penchant for cross-dressing.

Shakespearean comedies include subplots, and so too here, with a third romance, between the play-within-a-play’s director (Cole Alexander Smith, deliciously egotistical) and his assistant (a sweetly unflappable Carly Cioffi).

Scott Capurro is wry and touching as lonely gay man with a drinking problem Simon, another member of the “As You Like It” cast.

Director Mark Rucker’s perfectly cast production is crisp, fine-tuned and full of visual gags to match Greenspan’s prodigious wit.

And sly Greenspan is playing with our minds for sure, poking fun not only at the artifice of live theater but at our notions of gender roles and even reality itself.

“The whole world’s a drag show,” Alexandra says. “What is man? What is woman? Who the hell knows?”

THEATER REVIEW

She Stoops to Comedy

Presented by SF Playhouse

Where: 533 Sutter St., San Francisco

When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays; 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes Jan. 9

Tickets: $40

Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org

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