Long before Dame Edna, Hedda Lettuce, RuPaul, and even Milton Berle, men were dressing up as women and adorning the stage. During the Restoration, when men playing women's roles in theatre were a dying breed, Edward Kynaston was one of the most notable actresses. The English diarist Samuel Pepys, who once attended a performance of his in Ben Jonson's The Silent Woman wrote he "was clearly the prettiest woman in the whole house," then when performing as a man, "likewise did appear the handsomest man in the house."
Kynaston did eventually make a name for himself in London as a leading man, but the story of his days in women's clothing is told in Jeffrey Hatcher's Compleat Female Stage Beauty. Hatcher's tribute will open the season at the Philadelphia Theatre Company's Plays & Players Theatre Oct. 25 - Nov. 19 under the guidance of Tony-winning director Walter Bobbie. The production began previews Oct. 20.
New York producers, including the Weisslers, are reportedly eyeing this production for a possible New York transfer.
Compleat has a complete cast filling the Broadway to Off-Broadway to regional spectrum. Starring as the leading man/lady will be Brandon Demery who heads the cast that includes Jenny Bacon (Goodman Theatre's The Baltimore Waltz), Marcy Harriell (Broadway's Rent), Glenn Howerton (Guthrie Theatre's A Month in the Country), Stephen DeRosa (Broadway's The Man Who Came to Dinner), Robert Stanton (OB's Fuddy Meers), Steven Skybell (Broadway's Ah! Wilderness), Tom Nelis (OB's Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde), Lauren Ward (Broadway's 1776), Laura Knight (American Repertory Theatre's Full Circle), and relatively rookies Leo Neiderriter, Mark Buettler, John Zak, and Brea Bee.
Walter Bobbie, who won the Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critic's Circle Awards for his direction of Chicago, heads the production that includes John Lee Beatty's sets, Peter Kaczorowski's lights, Catherine Zuber's costumes, and Stanley Silverman's original music. Response to the PTC's production of playwright Hatcher's Three Viewings made this a welcome return for the writer. Other works include Scotland Road, All The Way With LBJ, and Sockdology. He also co-wrote Work Song, along with Eric Simonson, which recently premiered at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. Tickets can be purchased to the Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Street, in Philadelphia, by calling (215) 569-9700. For more Compleat information, visit them on the web at www.phillytheatreco.com.
-- by Ernio Hernandez