The end of the world
Compleat Female Stage Beauty
Sacramento, CA 95815
There are many ways for the world to end, and whether it’s a meteor taking out an entire species or a change of fashion that ruins one particular life, it’s terrifying. In Jeffrey Hatcher’s Compleat Female Stage Beauty, we see an apocalypse in the life of a Restoration-period “boy actor.” Based on the real Edward Kynaston, mentioned in the diaries of Samuel Pepys as the “most beautiful woman in London,” Hatcher’s play tells the story of a man skilled at playing women’s roles. But then women take the stage, and his whole reason for being is demolished.
Big Idea Theatre’s production is a how-to guide for a complex, funny and insightful show. Not only are the leads particularly well-cast, but the supporting players also are all good enough to more than hold their own. Add this to a very flexible and well-designed set (Brian Harrower, with Brian Watson, Kirk Blackinton and Justin D. Muñoz), outstanding costuming (Kat Wolinski), top-notch pacing and a deft hand at directing (also Harrower), and you have one of the best local shows in recent memory.
As Kynaston, Benjamin T. Ismail gives us an emotionally fragile man who has invested everything he is in his career and, like most artists, it is not just his job, it is his identity. He is so obsessed with his craft that, upon hearing that a woman has played his signature role, Desdemona in Othello, his first question is, “How did she die?” But his professional curiosity quickly becomes a dangerous rivalry, and his headstrong insistence that he is the better woman results in some serious consequences. The confidence Ismail projects is slowly chipped apart by the way reality has shifted.
As Margaret Hughes, the first “female” actor, Kristine David is delightful and determined. Best of all, she treats us to a bit of “bad acting” that is both hilarious and difficult for an actress as accomplished as she is to pull off. Her Margaret is a woman with a will to succeed as well-wrought as Kynaston’s; there is steel in her corset.
Other supporting roles are equally well-done: Justin D. Muñoz as an actor/theater owner; Jouni Kirjola as the diarist Pepys; Brian Watson as the Duke of Buckingham, who is carrying on a clandestine affair with Kynaston. But the supporting role that is truly a scene stealer is the fantastic work of Carrie Joyner as Maria, a theatrical seamstress drafted onto the stage. Joyner imbues Maria with a dignity and poise that makes her the moral center of the story.
Also noteworthy are the performances of Rick Eldredge as Charles II and Josephine Longo as his mistress, Nell Gwynn. Though their contributions are mostly comedic, there are flashes from both—particularly in Eldredge’s final exchange with Kynaston—that are pure inspiration.
Compleat Female Stage Beauty adds to Big Idea Theatre’s growing reputation for community theater that’s much closer to what the professionals do (and it’s not surprising that both Ismail and David have done professional work at Capital Stage). The production values and level of artistry make this show a real deal: amateur prices, professional show.