What better time to do a play about gender equality than now, when we see acts of insolence and denial across the country. What better way to learn how long the battle has raged than with Jeffrey Hatcher’s “Compleat Female Stage Beauty,” being presented by the College of Southern Nevada.
The play takes us back to the 1660s, the time of Shakespeare when men played all the parts and King Charles II’s Restoration decree that, henceforth, women shall play women. It begins as a comedy of errors and (gender) bends into tragedy. But no matter; “all’s well that ends well.”
But don’t let this period piece, recommended for adult audiences, scare you away. It’s only when we’re presented with a scene from “Othello” that we get any Elizabethan language. Yet, director Ann-Marie Pereth successfully guides the whole into the proper feel of a Shakespeare comedy.
Edward Kynaston is the celebrated first lady of the stage, his Desdemona the toast of London, and Josh Nadler plays the part to excellent effect. It’s a difficult role, and he embodies it fully. He slips into the mannerisms and vocal inflections of his characters with ease, so much so that we feel his pain and confusion when he struggles to adapt to playing a male role. When he falls into poverty and drunkenness, singing a ribald, raucous song about male genitals, the transformation is so complete that his very soul is bared in confusion of identity and what he should do with his life.
Skyler Ray Erickson has a tough job to do as Villiars, Duke of Buckingham, and he pulls it off nicely. We see and hear his regret when he betrays his love for Kynaston and sells out to avoid the same fate.
Nicole Unger plays Margaret Hughes, Edward’s stage rival and nemesis. Unger gradually settles into character and is hilarious in an audition scene gone awry. When she tries to help Kynaston regain self respect, to find a new place in stagecraft, and thinks she’s failed, Unger’s transitions from love to hurt are flawless. When Kynaston arrives to tutor her portrayal of Desdemona, her emotions flow evenly from anger to appreciation.
The majority of the minor characters are handled well. Joe Kucan plays King Charles with a commoner attitude and flair that maintains the comedic air of the script. Dennis D. Kreger does a fine job as Thomas Betterton, owner of the company of players; his Othello is properly boisterous and commanding. Cynthia Vodovoz does justice to her role of Maria, Kynaston’s assistant; the love for him pours through in voice and action.
While Oscar Antonio (Sir Sedley) and Elizabeth Elaine Dravis (courtesan Nell Gwynn) both carry themselves well in their roles, Antonio’s affected lisp and muddled diction and Dravis’ high-pitched tones, coupled with the acoustics of the venue, make them both difficult to understand.
From period-appropriate sound effects to street thugs, the seven background players do a great job. With Eric Koger’s Avon-inspired, multi-leveled set and beautiful lighting, Mariya Radeva-Nedyalkova’s stunning costumes, and the attention paid to detailed set dressings and props, everything melds together and provides the perfect atmosphere for a top-notch production.