Review: ‘Compleat Female Stage Beauty’ at City Lights Theater

"Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, Which we ascribe to Heaven."

In Review

Compleat Female Stage Beauty

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars - 'Right on the Money'
City Lights Theatre Company, San Jose
Directed by Amanda Folena
Starring Dale Albright, Anthony Frederick Aranda, Beth Boulay, Robert Campbell, Jenine Giusto, Thomas Gorrebeeck, Tom Gough, Martin Gutfeldt, Adam Magill, Kate McGrath, Geroge Psarras, Jonathan Shue, Therese Schneck, Robyn Winslow
Review by

Guest post by Pat Reardon.

Jonathan Shue (Samuel Pepys), Thomas Gorrebeeck (Kynaston)
Jonathan Shue (Samuel Pepys), Thomas Gorrebeeck (Kynaston)

In seventeenth century England women were prohibited by law from performing on stage. This restrictive era of approved gender discrimination gave rise to a unique workforce segment; men who specialized in playing female roles. Ned Kynaston (Thomas Gorrebeeck) is the toast of London’s Broadway with his acclaimed him-as-her performances. His stardom is undisputed until King Charles II changes the law which will allow women on stage and permanently altering Ned’s job security.

Compleat Female Stage Beauty is a campy romp through Shakespeare’s London where men weren’t always men and women become powerful by exercising a significant lack of womanly virtues.

Jeffrey Hatcher’s gender-bending period piece is skillfully delivered by a large talented cast. Foremost is Gorrebeeck’s powerful turn as Ned who transforms from adored star to unemployed has-been and back again as he searches for his inner man. His clever bit as the Bard’s Rosalind (a man acting as a woman who is pretending to be a man) is a real treat. Originally famous for his Desdemona, Ned’s reinvention is complete when he coaches his female rival to successfully deliver his signature piece while he shines as Othello.

Therese Schneck as the scene-stealing king’s mistress Nell is priceless as she skillfully delivers some of the funniest lines of the evening.

George Psarras (King Charles II), Therese Schneck (Nell Gwynn)
George Psarras (King Charles II), Therese Schneck (Nell Gwynn)

Not to be outdone, Robyn Winslow is terrific as the glass proscenium-shattering actress Margaret Hughes. George Psarras as the foppish but randy Charles II and Tom Gough’s impresario/actor Thomas Betterton add terrific depth to the evening. The skilled cast is rounded out by Dale Albright’s devilish Lord Sedley, Jonathan Shue’s energetic Pepys and Kate McGrath as the endearing and lovelorn Maria.

Kudos to director Amanda Folena for staging this excellent production so successfully. It is a complicated bit of theater. The cast is large and there are a significant number of scene changes. Folena uses the minimalist stage set well and the characters move effortlessly from one virtual venue to another. The presentation is beautifully lit and the accompanying music is a perfect complement to the evening.

This must-see production is a terrific addition to the local theater season. It is funny, poignant and vastly entertaining. Three cheers to City Lights for giving us this delightful tour of theater history.

Compleat Female Stage Beauty
4.5 out of 5 stars
Where: City Lights Theater Company of San Jose
Directed by: Amanda Folena
Written by: Jeffrey Hatcher
Starring: Dale Albright, Anthony Frederick Aranda, Beth Boulay, Robert Campbell, Jenine Giusto, Thomas Gorrebeeck, Tom Gough, Martin Gutfeldt, Adam Magill, Kate McGrath, Geroge Psarras, Jonathan Shue, Therese Schneck, Robyn Winslow
Runs through February 20, 2011
On the web:

Photo credit to: Kit Wilder

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  • Cynthia

    Yayyy! I’m plannning to see this in a couple weeks, but wasn’t sure how it would go… I’m super excited now!

  • Greg

    “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances. And one man in his time plays many parts. The world is a stage, and we are all its players.”— William Shakespeare.

    The scope of Jeffrey Hatcher’s fact-based historical play goes far beyond notions of gender politics or sexual orientation. The focus is on his characters and none escape scrutiny. It’s not long after each is introduced that it becomes apparent that everyone is playing a part. But it’s not a matter of deception as much as it is an issue of survival in a world that doesn’t cater to those who fail to stay in character.

    Hatcher’s brilliant masterwork posits that it’s the persona we adopt that truly defines us. The idea that our “identity” exists separate from that which we do is merely an illusion. We are, in fact, what we do. If that is taken away, nothing remains.

    Edward Kynaston, the last of the “boy players”, realized to perfection by Thomas Gorrebeeck, discovers this awful truth after being literally stripped of his role by royal decree. He is left beaten, shunned and horribly alone. His ability to adapt to the new “restoration period” is much in doubt. Ironically, Margaret Hughes (Robyn Winslow), his anointed successor, finds herself equally disoriented. It’s not until their final scene together is his (their) fate revealed.

    Staged within a scene taken from Shakespeare’s Othello, we bare witness to an acting duel of frenzied intensity, where the line between reality and performance art becomes blurred. It’s a frightening moment that makes for riveting theatre, and Gorrebeeck and Winslow push each other to limits seldom seen in any venue. It serves as a magnificent distillation of everything the playwright is attempting to say.
    Such lofty themes, set during 17th century England no less, might be expected to elicit yawns, if not entirely collapse under their own weight. But that would be a gross underestimation of the literary skills of its gifted playwright. The play is timely, relevant, and at times (ahem) jovial. And it’s flawlessly executed by all concerned.

    This is why I go to the theatre. When all facets fit harmoniously into place, both in acting talent, direction and overall production design, it’s is a marvelous thing to behold. Such is the case with this current production at City Lights Theatre. From the spot-on noblesse oblige trappings of the inimitable George Psarras as King Charles II, to the earthy exuberance of the scene-stealing Therese Schneck as the royal mistress, the entire cast delivers a signature performance worthy of recognition. Bravo!

    It’s a memorable experience that one cannot recommend too highly. I hereby decree that all adults attend this extraordinary event forthwith!