Female Stage Beauty
by Jeffrey Hatcher
Directed by Rhonda Clark
Carpenter Square Theatre opens its 26th Season with the Oklahoma premiere of
“Compleat Female Stage Beauty,” a dramatic comedy by Jeffrey Hatcher that
imagines events around a famed actor of the 1600s.
were men on London stages, Edward "Ned" Kynaston was the hot superstar. It is
1661, and after eighteen years of Puritan suppression, the Restoration has
begun. Charles II has returned from exile to take the throne, and being an
ardent patron of the arts, reopens the public theaters.
flocks to see Kynaston, especially fawning over his delicate portrayal of
Desdemona in Shakespeare’s OTHELLO. The ladies clamor for his attention, but in
secret he is the "mistress" of the Duke of Buckingham.
One night, a woman by the name of Margaret Hughes illegally takes the stage to
play Desdemona. The novelty of it causes quite a sensation, saving her from jail
time. The king’s mistress, Nell Gwynn, longs to be a comic actress. At Nell's
urging, Charles decrees a new law that allows women to act and bans men from
playing female roles. With the stroke of a pen, Kynaston loses his livelihood,
his lover and his sense of self. He teeters on the brink of self-destruction,
until fate and his desire for revenge persuade him to take the stage again.
Background for the Play:
emerged from the privations of Cromwell's Puritan Protectorate. Charles Stuart
has returned from exile and been crowned King Charles II in April 1661. This
time is known as the Restoration, and after years of repression, hedonism and
the love for the finer things in life were embraced by the public. Charles
particularly loved poetry and son and was an ardent theatregoer. He reopened the
theatres that had been forced to shut down or go underground for 18 years. Much
of what we know about Restoration London and events of the day come from Samuel
Pepys' famous Diary that he kept from 1660-69. He attended the theatre quite
often, sometimes twice a week, and he often wrote about performers, including
Edward Kyneston who was esteemed for his portrayals of Shakespeare's women.
Thomas Betterton became one of the leading actor-managers during the 1660's, and
at one point, Charles II sent him to France to observe their theatre
improvements. During this time "Restoration Comedy" became a recognized theatre
genre, and people of all social classes attended the theatre. While playwright
Hatcher uses actual passages from Pepys' diary in the dialogue, he uses much
dramatic license with dates and some historical figures in his play. He fuels
the dramatic conflict in his story with an actual event in 1661 when Charles II
rewrote English law to allow women to perform on the public stage and banned men
from playing women's roles.