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 was a dying breed, he 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."
Edward Kynaston, the man in question, 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. Opening the season at the Philadelphia Theatre Company's Plays & Players Theatre, Hatcher's tribute will begin previews Oct. 20 and open Oct. 25 - Nov. 19 under the guidance of Tony-winning director Walter Bobbie.
Compleat's cast spans the Broadway to Off-Broadway to regional spectrum. Starring as the leading man/lady will be Brandon Demery, who heads a 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 of his include Scotland Road, All The Way With LBJ, and Sockdology. He also co-wrote Work Song, 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