With 15 newly-gained pounds of muscle, senior Erin Miller has morphed into "the prettiest woman in the whole house," Edward (Ned) Kynaston, star of "Compleat Female Stage Beauty." "I have to achieve what's second nature in Edward, playing a female. This is difficult because there's a fine line between accuracy and caricature," he says.
Nothing about this assignment is easy. Erin is sculpting at the gym before the sun rises and at rehearsal long after it sets. The production itself is a play within a play within a play, with 17 actors playing 23 roles. Erin has several costume changes, most involving tiny buttons, corsets, and bumrolls. "This is an epic show."
So epic, in fact, that not many undergraduate theater programs could raise the curtain on "Compleat Female Stage Beauty." Director Kate Ufema explains, "This is mature, smart material for adults that is historically explicit and beautifully expressed in word and deed. And it's an absolute tour de force for the acting company and the production's design and construction teams."
Framed in history, "Compleat Female Stage Beauty" captures the end of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans, a time when it was considered lewd for women to be onstage. King Charles II assumes his reign, the Restoration Period begins; creating a moment when the last male actor to portray females on stage, Edward Kynaston, is forced to take his final bow as a woman, the only role he identifies with. "Therein lies the tragedy of it all," says Kate. "In his work, he's female. When he comes off the stage, he's male. But when he's most alive, he's working. So you take that away overnight, and now what?"
"We are what we do," is a timeless adage and a line in the show. There are many messages in "Stage Beauty," the script comments on sexuality and political policy, but it's the layer focused on identity that intrigued playwright Jeffrey Hatcher. He says, "I was most interested in how one defines oneself by what one does."
In his script, Hatcher writes:
Ned Kynaston: I want to act.
With King Charles' "I won't" Ned's essence is altered, something Erin identifies with, "You take the privilege of being an actor for granted. When it's taken away, it's a huge reminder of how lucky we are to have theaters to harbor that need to perform."
Erin’s performance in “Stage Beauty” is complicated. The actors’ edict of ‘getting into character’ is a lot more involved for Erin, a male. "Edward was a real person who was so skilled at playing a woman, which I wasn't."
A word of warning about "Stage Beauty": It’s full of adult language and situations, not appropriate for children. But all that's expressed in this script, explains Kate, is appropriate within the context of the show. “The more our audience understands about the historical ramifications of this play, the more that they will enjoy it.” A brief introduction to that history--
The People who Inspired Stage Beauty
“Compleat Female Stage Beauty” opens December 5 at 7:30 p.m. and runs through December 14 (December 5 - 7, 11 - 14 at 7:30 p.m. and December 8 at 2 p.m.) Tickets are available here or by calling (218) 726-8561.