Monday, February 2, 2009

Cornbury: The Queen's Governor (Theatre Askew)

By Dan
David Greenspan! • Ridiculous theatre • historical drag • a bit slow at times, but fun overall • David Greenspan!
BOTTOM LINE: Go if you’re in the mood for some “ridiculous” theatre, or if you have never seen David Greenspan.

Cornbury: The Queen’s Governor tells the story of Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury, an English Governor of New York in the early 1700s, who is rumored to have often dressed as his cousin, Queen Anne. As played by the always terrific David Greenspan, Lord Cornbury is both the “queen’s governor” and a governor-queen, strutting back and forth across the stage in glamorous gowns and a five o’clock shadow. To be sure, while Greenspan is not the only reason to catch Cornbury, he is the main reason to go, especially if you have never seen him perform. Greenspan often plays characters who stand out from everyone else onstage–I last saw him as a proud drag queen in a covert '60s gay bar in Second Stage’s Some Men. Greenspan’s genius is that he embraces the hilarity and silliness, relishing any opportunity for innuendo and sexual flirtation, while at the same time reminding us that these characters are deeply human. As Lord Cornbury, Greenspan commands the stage and everyone around him, perhaps most memorably in a sword-fight (of sorts) with the attractive young son of one of Lord Cornbury’s Dutch rivals.

Along with Greenspan, several other cast members liven up the evening. Everett Quinton (longtime member of Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company) plays Pastor Cornelius Van Dam, and has an unforgettable scene in Act 2. As Lord Cornbury’s rival Margareta de Peyster, Bianca Leigh does her best to out-diva Greenspan. And Ashley Bryant is hysterical as Africa, a slave and former African princess who is given to random bits of wailing. In a smaller role, Jenne Vath plays Anna Maria Bayard, a randy Dutch lady who has a short but hilarious scene with the handsome Rip Van Dam (Christian Pedersen).

The rest of the cast is unfortunately less interesting; indeed, when Greenspan leaves the stage the evening tends to drag (pun intended). For example, while a duet between two barmaids apparently refers to the “notorious love affair between Queen Anne and the Duchess of Marlborough, Sarah Churchill”, this is not apparent without reading the script, and so the song only slows the show down. Ultimately, my biggest complaint about Cornbury is that although it is only a bit over two hours, it feels long, and needs some judicious edits.

Presented in the style of the Theatre of the Ridiculous, Cornbury aims to tell a history of New York from a queer perspective (this is apparently the first installment in Theatre Askew’s three-part series). Telling a historical story in this Ridiculous style is at times a tough line to walk, since it can be difficult to be both silly and historically accurate. While the only cross-dressing on stage is Lord Cornbury’s, and everyone wears costumes appropriate to the period, the “ridiculousness” comes out in the set and prop design. Large two-dimensional drops are raised and lowered by huge pieces of rope, and the furniture and props are little more than flat pieces of wood painted to resemble chairs and teacups. For the most part, this design is effective–it helps provide Cornbury with a levity not often found in historical plays. But the scene changes soon lose their charm, as do some of the superfluous bits, like the “performance” that ends Act 1. Ultimately, Cornbury is most enjoyable, and most effective, when it is the most basic–that is, when Greenspan, Leigh, and Quinton are given the chance to hold court (even if in a prison) and fully realize the comedic potential of William M. Hoffman and Anthony Holland’s intelligent and well-researched script.

(Cornbury: The Queen’s Governor plays at The Hudson Guild Theatre, 441 West 26th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. Show times are Monday and Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm, Sunday at 5pm. No performance Feb 3rd. Cornbury runs through February 8th. Tickets are $18. For tickets visit or call 212.352.3101.)

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