... so I saw Stage Beauty
, based on the play Compleat Female Stage Beauty
, this weekend. Billy Crudup plays Mr Kynaston, a real-life male performer who played women's roles, and Claire Danes plays Maria, his female dresser, who becomes an actress when Charles II (Rupert Everett, in a fabulous wig -- he's in the movie just because, when anyone does a film with scary HOMOsexual content, they feel like they need to give him at least a bit part) decides that women should play women.
So. Okay. Could be interesting, yes? But. What it actually ended up being is a film about ... Maria rescuing Mr Kynaston from his hideous and unhappy and unreal and sordid homosexual encounters. I'm sure they think this was Subtle (and thus avoiding Giving Offense), but dude. So, so not.
So Mr Kynaston was trained his whole life to be a girl. His mentor was initially described so vaguely as a "man who took pretty young boys off the streets" that I thought they were proposing a Lurid Male Prostitute Past for Kynaston. And I just can't imagine they didn't notice
the resonances. Anyway. His mentor trained all the "masculine mannerisms" and "masculine thoughts" out of him and left him not a woman in a man's body, which would be sad enough, but a man who wants to be a woman (trapped in a man's body) but never, ever can be -- because biology rules destiny. So, as Maria tells him, he can't ever really
play a woman, because he can't think like a woman, can't act like a woman, can't be a woman. Nice thoughts for all the trans people in the world, yesno?
And Kynaston has a relationship with the Duke of Buckingham (!), but only when they are onstage after performances, so the Duke can think of Kynaston as a woman -- he doesn't love Kynaston when Kynaston's a man. And Kynaston does
think of himself as a woman, during sex. He explains to Maria (who is curious, as of course all modern women would be -- wait, this is Restoration period -- d'oh!) that when two men are together, one is the man and one is the woman, always. (Kynaston also declares that he's "never been with a woman except himself," so he's clearly meant to have had only homosexual experiences.) And then! Maria asks him to show her! So they get all up in the bed, and he has Maria playing the man and himself playing the woman, and she says "not much going on," and he says "well, usually the man has more there," and so naturally they switch places, and then they do this routine where every twenty seconds Maria asks him "and who are you/am I now?" and he says "now...you're the woman, and I'm the man." And by the end, there's no hesitation, and after that acknowledgment they start to have sex, because Claire Danes has cured
him, and he has seen the light, and now he knows he's a man and can have happy healthy relationships with women, and that's all it took to de-gay him. Because, see, gay men are just Confused and don't know how to be Real Men. And they don't have sex with gay men, they are the women to straight men -- the Duke of Buckingham wasn't gay, just a MAN, 'cause he was on top. And then! Finally! At the end of the play! Kynaston realizes that now he can play Othello instead of Desdemona, because now he can feel
the Othelloness (having read Othello, I would not consider this a good
development), and he is much applauded for his accurate portrayal of manness because Maria has finally taught him to be a man.
I. I mean, my dad
turned to be afterwards and said "wasn't that just a lame cover-up of 'Claire Danes Can Cure Gay Men?'" and I said "well, yes." It was so unsubtle and generally blech. It's sad, because it starts well -- all about gender as performative -- but it ends so, so badly. Men, as we know, are men, and women are women, and these lines cannot be crossed.