Stage Beauty

Stage Beauty

Stage Beauty
Starring: Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Rupert Everett, Tom Wilkinson, Zoe Tappe
Director: Richard Eyre
Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC Color, Closed-captioned, Widescreen
Studio: Lions Gate
DVD Release Date: March 8, 2005
Run Time: 109 minutes

Perhaps thought patterns are changing and prejudices against gay characters are indeed abating. At least hearing the audience delight after viewing STAGE BEAUTY makes a case for more mainstream male actors to shed the fear of taking on roles that feature gender and sexuality variations: Russell Crowe, Colin Farrell, Tom
Hanks, Matt Damon, Antonio Banderas, Javier Bardem, Rodrigo Santoro, Gael Garcia Bernal, et al have all performed sensitively as gay men despite their macho image – the once small list is now respectably large. And now add Billy Crudup and Ben Chaplin to that ever-growing list. Bravo to that change.

STAGE BEAUTY (in the screenplay version of his own play ‘The Compleat Female Stage Beauty’ by Jeffrey Hatcher) is set in the mid 17th century with all the frills and foibles of British dandies and ladies visually intact. This is the time when female roles were assumed by male actors (the theater was simply no place for ladies to participate) and we are introduced to Mr. Kynaston (in a brilliant, multifaceted performance by Billy Crudup!) as he portrays Desdemona in Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’. He is attended by a dresser Maria Hughes (Claire Danes, another superlative acting achievement) who longs to act and steals away after performances in the theater run by actor Betterton (Tom Wilkinson) to a tavern where she assumes the memorized roles Kynaston performs on the royally approved stage.

Kynaston has been raised to portray women on stage (and indeed in life) and responds to men as a woman (his lover is the Duke of Buckingham – Ben Chaplin). King Charles II (a thorough-going hilarious fling for the gifted Rupert Everett) is convinced by his tart du jour to allow women to play women’s roles on the stage, thus dethroning Kynaston as the actress of the time, driving him into tawdry masquerades in pubs after a severe beating from thugs beckoned by the bloated Sir Charles Sedley (Richard Griffiths). Maria Hughes thus becomes the first ‘compleat female actress’ and this transition between Kynaston and Maria results in desperate tutoring lessons before Maria can play Desdemona for the King. For the first time in his life Kynaston must examine his own sexuality and his successful final curtain after playing Othello to Maria’s Desdemona gratefully leaves that choice up in the air.

The script is a delight, the actors are all first rate, especially the wholly immersed Crudup and Danes who could well be part of the Royal Shakespeare Company, so fine is their British sound, demeanor, and Shakespeare! The supporting cast is a kaleidoscope of jewel-like performances from Everett, Wilkinson, Edward Fox, Hugh Bonneville among others. The mood is appropriately British – all dark, candlelit stagecraft and foggy marsh vistas – and the music matches the overall picture. Richard Eyre has directed a film that deserves many kudos, but the main glory should shine on his ability to explore the spectrum of gender and sexuality with dignity, intelligence, and tremendous sensitivity. A welcome delight!

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