By Kristin Halsey
When artists are stripped of the only thing they know how to do, what comes next can be a complex journey of self-discovery and inner strength. This is the story of “Compleat Female Stage Beauty,” the Forest Robert Theatre’s opening play of the season.
Shelley Russell, a professor in the theater department and director of the play, chose to do it because of what the play represents.
“I find the questions on artistic, individual and sexual identity are relevant and interesting,” Russell said.
The play tells a story set in the 1660s in London, where the most famous actor to play leading female roles was a man by the name of Edward Kynaston during a time when women were not allowed to act.
Kynaston is known for his roles as some of the most famous, powerful Shakespearean leading lady characters such as: Ophelia, Cleopatra and, most importantly, Desdemona in Othello.
“I’ve had students in my office asking me some of the same questions that people ask in this play. Those questions may be, ‘How do I deal with being an artist in a world that doesn’t always understand artists?’ It may be, ‘How do I deal with being different?’” Russell said.
The characters in the show are real people from history, which poses a unique challenge to the actors.
Aaron Sarka, a senior theater major, plays the role of Charles II. Charles was the king of England at the time.
As a veteran to the Forest Roberts Theatre stage, Sarka has had experience playing many roles, but this one poses more of a challenge to the actor.
“It’s different because I’m playing a real person,” Sarka said. “There are certain ways he spoke and many different things he wrote that I can look at. It gives me an idea of how he acted and I feel on some level I need to stay true to him.”
Although he is portraying someone from history, Sarka said he feels he can still make the character his own.
“I can draw from what I learned and portray him in the way I see him, which is unique compared to another actor’s way of portraying him,” Sarka said.
Jacob Barbot, a junior theater major, plays the role of Samuel Peyps, a famed writer of the time. Barbot said he also finds playing a real person a challenge.
“It’s just different because you want to respect the real person,” Barbot said. “You want to take some of the things that were in their life, but you also want to stay relevant to the play and your central idea of the play.”
With the combination of new and more seasoned actors on the stage, the rehearsal process has been interesting, Barbot said.
Taylor Kulju, a sophomore theater major, plays the role of Margaret Hughes, who was the first English female actress. Hughes is a strong-willed female character who starts off as a mediocre actress but grows mature in her acting style by the end of the play. Hughes single-handedly threatens Kynaston’s livelihood when she plays Desdemona in an illegal theater production of the play.
“I’m obviously more comfortable with the older students because I have worked with them before,” Kulju said. “However, the new people, we have so many talented people in this cast that are new, and working with them brings a whole new level of new ideas, which is exciting,” Kulju said.
Patrick Bradley, a freshman theater major, plays the role of Edward Kynaston.
Kynaston is an orphan who, at young age, was trained how to portray females. After the law is passed that only women can play female roles, Kynaston has an identity crisis.
“I think that makes it infinitely more difficult because you’re trying to portray someone that actually existed and that’s a huge responsibility,” Bradley said.
After witnessing one of the performances, an aspiring actress, Nell Gwynn, mistress of Charles the II, decides to seduce the king to change the law and allow women to act.
Kynaston is now left with the problem of discovering who he is without his female roles to play.
Bradley is not new to the FRT stage and finds this role to be one of more difficult roles he has played.
“There are things that these people did in their lives and different mannerisms that they had that you have to incorporate and try to make it real,” Bradley said.
Bradley said that, even though the show is a period piece, it can still relate to college audiences.
“It does a good job representing the struggles that some people have with their own sexuality. I think that it is something that is especially difficult for young people to go through,” Bradley said.
Compleat Female Stage Beauty runs at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12 through Oct. 15. There will also be a matinee show at 1 p.m. on Oct. 15.
Tickets are $8 for students and $12 for the general public. For more information, call the FRT Box Office at (906) 227-2553 or email [email protected]