Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

As You Like It
San Francisco Playhouse
Review by Patrick Thomas

Also see Patrick's recent reviews of A Christmas Carol and Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski

The Cast
Photo by Jessica Palopoli
"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." It's one of William Shakespeare's most famous lines. In the San Francisco Playhouse production of the Bard's As You Like It, which opened this week in a musical adaptation by Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery (music and lyrics by Taub), the line is rewritten as "All the world's a stage, and everybody's in the show." Unfortunately, the show here is a bit of a mess, ignoring far too much of Shakespeare's poetry in lieu of more contemporary language that does little to make the text more accessible or, for that matter, enjoyable.

Despite this, some terrific performances, delightful costumes, clever choreography, and a few sweet tunes almost compensate for a clumsy, less-than-compelling book.

Most of the story takes place in the magical Forest of Arden, beautifully realized by scenic designers Bill English and Heather Kenyon, with trees whose canopies glow like stained glass windows, adding a sense of the sacred to the space. It is here where Rosalind (River Navaille) is banished by her uncle, Duke Frederick (Will Springhorn Jr.), who has usurped the throne from the Duke Senior (Michael Gene Sullivan). Accompanied by her cousin, Duke Frederick's daughter Celia (Abigail Esfira Campbell), Rosalind will find love with the handsome Orlando (Nikita Burshteyn)–but not without first overcoming some of the hurdles Shakespeare often erects to keep lovers apart. In this instance, Orlando has disguised herself as a boy, and when she meets Orlando in the forest, he is leaving doggerels of love on every tree.

Fear not, love will triumph in the end. True to the gender-bending nature of the show, love will express itself in all its forms: men and women, women and women, men and men, with several gender non-conforming performers in the cast, including Ezra Reaves, who was such a powerhouse in The Red Shades at Z Space this season. Reaves has a natural stage presence and seems so comfortable in their skin that they are a delight to watch.

Michael Gene Sullivan, ever the consummate pro, once again delivers a terrific performance. Many of the biggest laughs of the evening come from Nicholas Yenson's portrayal of the fool Touchstone. Naturally, a fool gets some of the best lines and funniest bit of business, but Yenson delivers them with such terrific comic timing and commitment (at one point actually putting mustard on a Twinkie and eating it), that we can't help but love him.

But the highlight of the night might be the gloriously (mostly) gaudy costumes by Kathleen Qiu. Her mashups of color and pattern, with off-kilter silhouettes are an absolute joy to behold, and fit marvelously in the magical Forest of Arden. Likewise, Nicole Helfer's choreography is appropriately energetic and flowing, adding to the sense of "anything can happen" magic.

As You Like It plays through January 14, 2023, at SF Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Tuesdays - Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $15-$100. For tickets and information, please visit or call the box office at 415-677-9596.