When youre a 17th-century boy who likes boys and plays girls roles in the theater, the last thing you need is the boys artistic monopoly on female characters getting revoked on the whim of a monarch. Thats where thespian Ned Kynaston finds himself in Compleat Female Stage Beauty, the latest production from Mildreds Umbrella Theater Company. Ned, a celebrated player of Shakespeares women and the secret lover of the Duke of Buckingham, sees his life take a tragic turn when King Charles, in an attempt to please a courtesan, decrees that females be allowed to act. The action leaves Ned reeling barred from womens roles, hes out of work, out of the dukes heart and coping with a severe identity crisis. The epicene protagonist (based on the real actor Edward Kynaston) must reinvent himself in order to rejoin the world he was cast out of.
Playwright Jeffrey Hatchers explorations of gender identity are -dissertation-worthy, but Compleat Female Stage Beauty is no dry academic exercise. The nuanced script, which veteran director Ron Jones brings to the Midtown Art Center stage, offers mirth, pathos and, yes, a bit of salaciousness. (Female frontal nudity, if youre counting.) 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and Mondays (which are pay-as-you-like). Through February 28. 3414 La Branch. For information, call 832-418-0585 or visit www.mildredsumbrella.com. $6 to $13.