As You Like It

A magical Forest of Arden -- and a gem of a production -- in an unlikely locale

Most companies save Shakespeare, especially the pastoral plays, for the outdoors in summer. But Cutting Ball Theater creates a magical Forest of Arden -- and a gem of a production -- in the unlikely locale of Theater Rhinoceros' smaller space. The set of hay bales, apple trees, standing mirrors, floor lamps, Roman columns, and aquariums filled with apples and serpents is at once a forest, a dreamscape, and a Garden of Eden, where Rosalind (Elizabeth Bullard) starts the action by biting into the forbidden fruit. Director Rob Melrose adds two framing scenes in which the characters interweave fragments of their lines. The imaginative interpretation and direction explore Rosalind's gender -- she disguises herself as a man and promises the fooled Orlando (Richard Bolster) that she can cure him of heartache -- as well as each character's identity, reminding us that we present different aspects of ourselves to each other.

The cast thrives under Melrose's direction, each actor turning in an inspiring, fresh performance that makes the production resemble an all-star ensemble piece. Bullard delights as a giddy Rosalind with a schoolgirl crush (as does Genevieve Lee as her demure cousin Celia), then transitions into a Ganymede dressed as a park ranger, retaining a bit of flirtatiousness under her counterfeit rough exterior. Orlando can be a thankless role -- he remains lovesick throughout -- but Bolster gives him an internalized tension that's waiting to burst. A mercurial David Sinaiko, in black-and-white makeup, balances the bawdiness and wisdom of the clown Touchstone in a standout act. Nathan Aaron Place is melancholy yet slyly humorous as the black-clad Jaques, creating memorable scenes with songster Amiens (William Martin). In a creative bit of double casting, William Boynton comes on first as a hilarious WWF-like Charles the Wrestler, then as a smitten Silvius in love with shrewish Phebe (Paige Rogers). Melrose's other double casting, of court and country folk (especially Kurt Gundersen as both the banished and the usurping dukes), neatly ties up the play's theme of counterfeit identities. You don't have to like Shakespeare to enjoy this not-to-be-missed production.

Details

Through April 1. Tickets are $12-20; call 861-5079.
Theater Rhinoceros Studio, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), S.F.

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