Better to die a man than be born a woman even a princess. Inspired by Mark Twain's short story about a girl raised as a boy in order to claim the crown, Jan O'Connor's brisk comedy embraces the sexism of its setting to great effect. Manhood means never apologizing, commands the Duke of Lesser Flugel (Warren Davis) to his daughter Basil (Riley Rose Critchlow), as he stuffs socks down her trousers. But if men are rocks, women are water, appearing to yield to their betters while impressing their will through patience and subtlety. When Basil is sent to his uncle King Heimlich's (Ross Gottstein) court as the rightful male heir, s/he's smashed by the wiles of the very femme Princess Clotilda (Whitton Frank), who with her nimbus of red curls is as ripe and soft as a tomato. The cast and casting are spot-on, as is Richard Tatum's direction, which allows us to peek at the layers underneath this superficially simple society. In less detailed hands, it'd simply be a funny, feminist trifle, but while Tatum plays up the humor, he also grasps the pathos in a tomboy forced to shun her own biology and to see her mother (Adriana Bate) as a cowed creature she deigns to visit every six years. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (323) 230-7261. Presented by Absolute Theatre and Full Circle Theatrics.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: June 25. Continues through Aug. 1, 2010