Jeffrey Hatcher's play Compleat Female Stage Beauty tackles a period of British history that's ripe with gender and social interest, yet had not been revisited from a modern perspective: the lifting of the ban on female actors, and the consequences to the men who specialized in playing female roles. For audiences, the issue has 20th century parallels with silent film stars, whose funny voices sometimes kept them from transitioning to talkies, and unattractive musicians who couldn't make it on MTV. Richard Eyre's film version, Stage Beauty, does a mostly good job at drawing out this discussion, but the issues get a bit trivialized by the film's broadly comedic tone. Eyre seems more eager to whip his actors into a frenzy, which often plays for unintentional laughs, than to allow them quiet moments of despair or frustration. Consequently, the performances are capable, but they don't stand out. It's useful to know that the film is based loosely on a real man who eventually married and had children. Otherwise, the conversion of Billy Crudup's Kynaston from clearly homosexual to possibly straight seems a bit confabulated, not to mention coming dangerously close to implying that homosexuality can be "cured." It doesn't help that the relationship between Maria Hughes (Claire Danes) and Kynaston feels utterly false, due both to a lack of chemistry between Danes and Crudup and a lack of plausibility in their characters' attitudes and motivations. They do come together well in the third act, through a couple of rich rehearsal scenes containing smart observations on the actor's craft and on Shakespeare's Othello.
by Derek Armstrong review