Compleat Female Stage Beauty
THE STORY: In 1661 the most famous portrayer of female roles on the London stage was a performer named “Kynaston.” Like every other player permitted to enact such roles, Kynaston was a man. A celebrity artist shining bright at the crest of the Restoration, Ned or Mr. K, as he’s called, is applauded onstage and off for his interpretations of Shakespeare’s tragic ladies: Ophelia, Cleopatra, especially his Desdemona and his famous “death scene.” He’s the toast of the town and the very secret “mistress” of the powerful Duke of Buckingham. But when an unknown named Margaret Hughes plays Desdemona one night at an illegal theater, instead of stopping the show, the ever-game King Charles II changes the law to allow women to act. By the stroke of a pen, Kynaston’s world is turned upside-down. He loses his cachet, his livelihood, his lover and his sense of self. And as such women as the king’s own courtesan, Nell Gwynn, and Kynaston’s former dresser, Maria, become stars, his own light disappears until fate and his desire for revenge give him a chance to take the stage again.
“A clever exploration of rich territory, the world of the English theater at the seventeenth-century moment when women were first allowed on the stage.” —New York Times. “Lush…world class…clever…” —Variety. “An intimate psycho-sexual backstage historical comedy. Splendidly theatrical, it’s a witty allusive game with some feeling payoff, to boot.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.