Scripter Jeffrey Hatcher's flamboyant but thematically askew legiter peruses the theater world of Restoration England, when the edicts of Charles II revolutionized 17th century London's stages.
Scripter Jeffrey Hatcher’s flamboyant but thematically askew legiter peruses the theater world of Restoration England, when the edicts of Charles II revolutionized 17th century London’s stages. Under the astute guidance of helmer John Perrin Flynn, an accomplished 18-member ensemble impressively bombards the audience with the hedonistic merriment of these post-Puritan times. But it ultimately fails to establish a believable character evolution for the play’s central protagonist, renowned Shakespearian thesp Edward Kynaston (Michael Traynor), a man who specialized in performing female roles.
“Compleat Female Stage Beauty” focuses the dramatic throughline on Kynaston’s emotional and professional progression during the pivotal 1660s, from imperious, scenery chewing “queen” of the stage through rampant denial that his world has been taken from him to his spiritual and professional rebirth as a “man” of the theater. What’s missing is the evolutionary path traveled by the actor, from superficial performance automaton, with planned gestures for every emotion, to a deeply intuitive “natural” performer.
Traynor is impressive in his efforts to give credence to Kynaston’s journey. In his early scenes, Traynor embodies the stilted, stylized acting style of the period, with its exaggerated gestures and hyper-projected emotions. He exudes the haughty confidence of a performer who is the master of his chosen art form.
Traynor also is equal to the challenge of chronicling Kynaston’s subsequent emotional and professional descent when King Charles II (Jaxon Duff Gwillim) decrees that all female roles in the theater will henceforth be portrayed by actresses and not men.
Although no information is provided on how Kynaston eventually acquires his new approach to inhabiting a role, the second-act interaction between this former grand dame of the stage and his doubting protegee, Margaret Hughes (a dead-on Tracie Lockwood), is the highlight of play.
Traynor and Lockwood project the jagged emotional combativeness of mortal enemies as Kynaston relentlessly strips Hughes of all the stylized nonsense she originally acquired while slavishly copying him. In teaching Hughes to act like a real woman, he finally believes he can not only act like a man onstage but actually be one in real life.
In an ensemble of capable perfs, Rachel Avery is comically delicious as Charles II’s nubile mistress Nell Gwynn. Rochelle Greenwood offers an endearing portrayal as lovelorn seamstress Maria, who finds herself thrust onto the stage when Kynaston is banned. Also impressive are Rick D. Wasserman’s pragmatic theater impresario Thomas Betterton, Gwillim’s deceptively foppish King Charles and Steve Cell’s properly masculine outing as Kynaston’s lover, George Villiars.
The musical contributions of Penny Orloff and Catherine Campion add a sumptuous underscore to the proceedings. The production designs of Stephanie Kerley Schwartz (sets and costumes) and Dan Weingarten (lights) greatly contribute to the period veracity of the work.