Thursday, January 27, 2011

Compleat Female Stage Beauty : City Lights Theatre San Jose : This is Why I go to the Theatre

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances. And one man in his time plays many parts. The world is a stage, and we are all its players.”— William Shakespeare.

The scope of Jeffrey Hatcher’s fact-based historical drama goes far beyond notions of gender politics or sexual orientation. The focus is on his characters and none escape scrutiny. It’s not long after each is introduced that it becomes apparent that everyone is playing a part. But it’s not a matter of deception as much as it is an issue of survival in a world that doesn’t cater to those who fail to stay in character.

Hatcher’s brilliant masterwork posits that it’s the persona we adopt that truly defines us. The idea that our “identity” exists separate from that which we do is merely an illusion. We are, in fact, what we do. If that is taken away, nothing remains but a reflection in a looking glass.

Edward Kynaston, the last of the “boy players”, realized to perfection by Thomas Gorrebeeck, discovers this awful truth after being literally stripped of his role by royal fiat. He is left beaten, shunned and horribly alone. His ability to adapt to the new era of British “Restoration" is much in doubt. Ironically, Margaret Hughes (Robyn Winslow), his anointed successor and rival, finds herself similarly disoriented. It’s not until a final staggering confrontation is his (their) fate revealed.

Staged within a scene taken from Shakespeare’s Othello, we are witness to an acting duel of frenzied intensity, where the line between reality and performance art becomes blurred. It’s a frightening moment that makes for riveting theatre, and the equally matched Gorrebeeck and Winslow push each other to limits seldom seen in any live venue. Beautifully written and performed, it serves as a magnificent distillation of everything the playwright is attempting to say.
Such lofty themes, set during 17th century England no less, might be expected to elicit yawns, if not entirely collapse under their own weight. But that would be to grossly underestimate the literary skills of its gifted author. The play has a decidedly contemporary wit and sensibility. It is at once timeless and immediate, and quite often (ahem) jovial. And it’s flawlessly executed by all concerned.

This is why I go to the theatre. When all facets fit harmoniously into place, in terms of acting talent, direction and every aspect of production design and staging, it’s a marvelous thing to behold. Such is the case with this current production at City Lights Theatre. From the spot-on noblesse oblige trappings of the inimitable George Psarras as King Charles II, to the earthy exuberance of the scene-stealing Therese Schneck as the royal mistress Nell Gwynn, every cast member delivers a signature turn worthy of recognition. Bravo!

It’s a memorable experience that one cannot recommend too highly. I hereby decree that all adults attend this extraordinary event forthwith!

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