'Stage Beauty' strives for authenticityTHEATER REVIEW: “Compleat Female Stage Beauty” is a well-written play, and the production that opened Thursday at UMD is well-directed and acted, with excellent production values.
By: Paul Brissett, for the News Tribune
“Compleat Female Stage Beauty” is a well-written play, and the production that opened Thursday at UMD is well-directed and acted, with excellent production values.
It is the true story of Edward Kynaston, star of the London stage and famed for his skill at playing females, who falls to dissolution and debasement after King Charles II lifts the ban on women onstage and outlaws the ages-old practice of young men playing women.
It’s a play perhaps of greater appeal to theater historians than to the public at large, but the story of Kynaston’s struggles and journey is a universally compelling one, well told by playwright, director and cast.
Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher strives for the utmost authenticity in recreating London and its theater world in the mid-17th century, peopling his play with historical figures such as diarist Samuel Peyps, impresario Thomas Betterton, Villiars, Duke of Buckingham, King Charles and Sir Charles Sedley.
He also seeks to reproduce the rawness of life in those times, with the bawdiest of humor, the crudest of language and depictions of the easy sex in all social classes.
Hatcher also catches the fundamental insecurity of so many actors and the petty jealousy that’s rampant among them. When Kynaston witnesses the first woman to audition for the role he’s been playing to great acclaim, he snipes mercilessly before indulging himself in open scorn and hostility.
Ironically, the male actor portraying Kynaston is named Erin Miller, who is not terribly convincing as a female, but brings range and subtlety to Kynaston as a man who has been stripped of his identity and struggles to find a new one. Kynaston, as played by Miller, is even confused about his sexual identity and also about what it means to be a man.
One of Miller’s most impressive feats is to portray an actor giving a bad performance, when Kynaston is challenged to act the role of Othello. His best scene (spoiler alert) is when he coaches a woman at whom he initially sneered to a triumphant performance in the role she took from him.
Director Kate Ufema honors Hatcher’s devotion to authenticity with brilliant period costuming by Laura Piotrowski, wigs and makeup by Patricia Dennis and a set designed by Topaz Cooks that converts from a 17th-century theater to a public space to a seedy tavern.
Ufema also has carried through on Hatcher’s penchant for earthiness: The show includes graphic simulations of anal intercourse and fellatio and a brief glimpse of a naked female breast.
Thursday’s opening also included what for UMD was an unusually large number of technical miscues in lighting and sound.
Paul Brissett is a Duluth writer and amateur actor who has appeared in numerous community theater productions.
If you go
What: “Compleat Female Stage Beauty”
Where: Marshall Performing Arts Center, UMD
When: 7:30 p.m. today, Saturday and Wednesday; and 2 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $18, but $15 for UMD faculty and staff, $13 for seniors, $8 for students and $6 for UMD students
For information: (218) 726-8561 or d.umn.edu/sfa
The review: A well-told story, but with so much historical accuracy that the play is not for the young or the squeamish.