Mercury Players Theatre's Compleat Female Stage Beauty is a comedy that looks at serious issues.
In typical Mercury Players fashion, this show is sans taboos. Jeffrey Hatcher's R-rated script contains its fair share of fun innuendo, but the play's true value is found in its social commentary. Compleat Female Stage Beauty scrutinizes what it takes to "fit in" and examines the meaning of gender and sexuality in a changing world.
Set in 17th-century England, Compleat Female Stage Beauty is based on the life of Edward Kynaston, one of the last of England's "boy players" - men who played women's roles in theater. When women started playing the female parts in the 1660s, the idea of men portraying women on stage became obsolete. Compleat Female Stage Beauty follows Kynaston's tragic fall and his triumphant comeback.
Each performance is precise and polished. Dave Durbin pulls off Kynaston's complexity with a balance of humor and heartbreak. The darling of the show is Kelly Maxwell in the role of Nell Gwynn, the king's mistress and one of first women on the British stage. Maxwell brings unfaltering energy to the performance and is well cast as the effervescent orange-seller who rose from the streets of London to capture Charles II's heart.
The set is simple but effective, and the costuming exquisite. Lush velvets and bright embroidery dazzle the eye and highlight the idea of beauty. A flash of nudity here and there keeps the show just saucy enough.
What really makes a man a man? A woman a woman? Why is one's assigned role - on stage or in real life - sometimes so hard to play? In the end, Compleat Female Stage Beauty is about the difficulty of figuring out oneself in a world that is all about pretending.