Stage Beauty

on October 08, 2004 by Kim Williamson
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One wishes to like "Stage Beauty." The tale is intriguing: The 1660s-set story of famed leading "lady" Edward Kynaston, who loses his standing in the theatre when King Charles II reverses a ban against women appearing onstage. The cast is impressive, with Billy Crudup ("Big Fish") as Kynaston and the often remarkable Claire Danes (more in "The Hours" mode here than "Terminator 3") as Maria, the dresser who yearns for the homosexual Kynaston even as she yearns to take her own place on the boards--and then, thanks to the King's action, supplants Kynaston. The script, by Minneapolis playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, adapting his stageplay "Compleat Female Stage Beauty," is erudite. And literate British stage director turned filmmaker Richard Eyre ("Iris") seems ready to enlighten and entertain, even as he targets the deeper emotions of the characters.

Yet "Stage Beauty" never congeals. The first thing one notices is that all the sets, darkly lit as they are, look like sets; Eyre's idea of a palace room looks about as swank as the conference facilities at a budget hotel. The last thing one notices is that the film's key storyline--Maria's suppressed love for Kynaston--has never played real or even has seemed to make sense, the least reason for that being his interest in men. In between, Maria's ascension to the top as written has little believability.

What holds the most promise, thanks to Crudup, is Kynaston's being forced to examine himself--what he is, how he became this way, what he will become--in a universe that once revered him but now barely recognizes him. But even that tumult lacks an ultimate payoff. Still, given how well the players play, and given the exotic nature of the proceedings, "Stage Beauty" makes for a passable evening at the art-house. Starring Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Rupert Everett, Tom Wilkinson and Ben Chaplin. Directed by Richard Eyre. Written by Jeffrey Hatcher. Produced by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Hardy Justice. A Lions Gate release. Drama. Rated R for sexual content and language. Running time: 105 min

Tags: Starring Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Rupert Everett, Tom Wilkinson and Ben Chaplin. Directed by Richard Eyre. Written by Jeffrey Hatcher, Produced by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, Hardy Justice, Lions Gate, Drama
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