The timing could not be better for Theatre South Carolina’s production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s Compleat Female Stage Beauty, directed by Gary Logan. Gay rights and gender equality have been hot button issues this election season, and both of these are woven intricately into the tapestry of this poignant and bawdy production.
In 1660, Edward Kynaston is sitting pretty as the most famous leading lady in the London theatre scene. After 18 years of Puritan rule, England is experiencing a renaissance of theatre, fashion, and decadence. Called "the loveliest lady that ever I saw in my life" by Samuel Nicolas, Edward is loved and admired for his brilliant portrayal of tragic female roles. When King Charles II signs a law allowing women to act on the stage, his career is ruined, and his entire identity is called into question.
This show features a new crop of USC Theatre's MFA candidates. Melissa Peters immersed herself in extensive movement and vocal work to develop the role of Kynaston. “The shape of the pelvis changes a lot about how we move,” she told Otis Taylor of The State. Her hard work has paid off. You completely forget that she is a she, and instead can only see her as Edward Kynaston. While Kynaston was the last of his kind, his rival Margaret Hughes was the first of her kind. Kate Dzvonik is lovely and charismatic in this role. However, she is difficult to understand through her thick accent. Most of her performance comes off as one-dimensional, but she is positively winning in her final scene. Leeanna Rubin makes a hilarious and raunchy Nell Gwynn, the popular mistress of King Charles II (played by Cory Lipman). Stephen Ingle is playfully perverse as Kynaston’s fey and foppish antagonist, Sir Charles Sedley—who suceeds in being both mincing and menacing.
April Andrews has earned accolades for her amazing costumes, and Xuemei Cao’s set is cleverly transformative. The transitions between scenes are scored by Matthew Nielson, and are evocative of the period.
Compleat Female Stage Beauty reminds us of the progress that has been made in our society’s acceptance those who are gay and transgendered. Yes—there is much progress to be made, but at least gays can marry in nine states. The risk of being pelted with excrement onstage for being a homosexual has lessened considerably since the 1600’s as well. But, the question of what it means to be man or a woman is still a question that continues to pop up in conversation…whether we’re discussing transgendered youths being admitted into the Girl Scouts, gays in the military, or even whether boys should be allowed to wear pink. The discussion of sexual and gender identity have become major political issues.
While addressing serious subject matter, this show still manages to be quite funny. Hatcher has written a cleverly witty script, and the cast manages the delicate balance of capturing every humorous moment without becoming farcical or irreverent.
Compleat Female Stage Beauty is a darkly comical, but touching production. It brings humanity to issues that are easy to think of as being merely political and abstract. Due to its mature subject matter and some partial nudity, this is definitely an adults-only show.
~ Jillian Owens
Show times are 8pm Wednesdays-Fridays, and 7pm Saturdays. There is an additional half-price late night performance on Saturday, November 17 at 11pm. Tickets for the production are $12 for students, $16 for USC faculty/staff, military personnel and seniors 60+, and $18 for the general public. Tickets can be purchased by calling 803-777-2551 or by visiting the Longstreet Theatre box office, which is open Monday-Friday, 12:30pm-5:30pm.