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A CurtainUp Review
Cornbury: The Queen's Governor

New York, seventeen hundred and eight. The royal colony, formerly New Amsterdam until its conquest by the English, teeters on the brink of open mutiny. It is the last year of Governor Cornbury's administration. Edward Hyde, Viscount Cornbury, first cousin to Queen Anne, a favorite of the late King William, and eldest son of the Earl of Clarendon, held in universal disdain by his subjects, was soon to be dismissed by history as a vain buffoon. An abomination to some, an angel to others this is his story: Cornbury, the Queen's Governor!.— this opening prologue by the play's narrator, makes its ambition to be more than a campy drag queen tale but also about New York at a turning point in its history, a turning point that would determine whether America was indeed going to be a country known for freeom and liberty for all.
David Greenspan as Lord Cornbury
Eliot Spitzer and Rod R. Blagojevich certainly aren't the first American Governors whose behavior shocked their constituents. Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury who became the third English Royal Governor in 1702, liked dressing up in elaborate gowns and wigs. While I was happy to see the last of Spitzer and wouldn't mind seeing the last of Blogojevich's carefully brushed mop of hair, I'd vote for Cornbury any day — at least as portrayed by the one and only David Greenspan in William H. Hoffman and Anthony Holland's Cornbury: The Queen's Governor, a campy faction that's having a brief run at the Hudson Guild Theater. You see, according to the playwrights the British Queen Anne's appointee not only embraced a less than conventional dress code, but people (native Americans, African born slaves and Jews) not accepted by his own countrymen as well as the Dutch who dominated New York.

If the late Charles Ludlum's Ridiculous Theater was before your time, the Theatre Askew's presentation of this fantasy about an actual historical figure is your chance to experience some of what made Ludlum's theater something of a downtown cult venture. If you did see some of their shows, having Everett Quinton, an essential member of that now gone company, play the role of an uptight Dutch Pastor will be a special treat.

The inspiration that led Hoffman and Holland to play with the history of early New York was a mysterious portrait of a strange looking colonial dame with a five o'clock shadow hanging in the New York Historical Society. While we can thank that portrait for the flamboyant Greenspan-cum-Cornbury persona now on stage, the playwrights also saw it as an opportunity to use Cornbury to raise the question as to whether America was going to be a tolerant society or a restrictive one? This also fits in with the Askew's mission to present plays in which "queerness" symbolizes anyone who stands outside the traditional mainstream. A worthy mission though somewhat too broad in its execution for Cornbury to succeed in being the serious and seriously funny play it could be.

Greenspan is very much the evening's star. From the moment he dons his first gown and wig, he manages to make Cornbury a fully dimensioned character. The people with whom he associates as well as his unconventional dress fan the fire of the bubbling Dutch rebellion against the English rule. As part of the Dutch contingent Everett Quinton is hilarious as the pious but bigoted pastor Van Dam. He has a powerful ally in Lady Margaret De Peyster (a fierce and quite funny Bianca Leigh) whose political ambitions bring another Governor, Sarah Palin, to mind. One of the funniest and yet scariest scenes is an exchange between her and Cornbury's Jewish adviser Spinoza DaCosta (Ken Kliban). His request for enough land for his fellow Jews to live on and not just to be buried in is met with disdain and curses. On the other hand the Pastor's drolly named son, Rip Van Dam (Christian Pedersen) turns out to be a defector to the more free thinking Cornbury.

These are just a few of the colorful folks met as the action under Tim Cusack direction shifts from Cornbury's private chambers, to Pastor Van Dam's church, to the jail in which Cornbury finally finds himself along with his French wife (Julia Campaneilli), a former African princess (Ashley Bryant) and a well-muscled Delaware Indian (Eugene the Pogee) who are part of his entourage.

Hoffman and Holland's script is peppered with referential dialogue and double entendres. While things often get too shticky and not all the actors match Greenspan and Quinton's bravura performances, set and costume designers Mark Beard and Jeffrey have managed to bring the flavor of the period to the small stage. At $18 a ticket, there's enough fun here to make for an often enjoyable couple of hours of live theater at a definitely affordable price.

Cornbury: The Queen's Governor
Playwrights: William M. Hoffman and Anthony Holland
Director/Choreographer: Tim Cusack
Cast In order of appearance: Erik Sherr (Narrator, also Atticus aDutch jailer and Sir Richard Lovelace), Ken Kliban (Spinoza Dacosta, Jewish advisor to Lord Cornbury, David Greenspan (Lord Cornbury—English governor of New York & New Jersey), Ashley Bryant (Africa-Slave and former African princess), Everett Quinton (Pastor Corneilus Van Dam), Christian Pedersen (Rip Van Dam, the Pastor's son), Bianca Leigh (Margareta de Peystar-Dutch lady and principal rival of LordCornbury), Nomi Tichman (Molly-English barmaid), Tara Bast (Martha-English barmaid; alsoSarah Vanderspiegel-Dutch lady), Eugene the Poogene (Munsee-Native American of the Delaware tribe), Jenne Vath (Anna Maria Bayard-Dutch lady), Julia Campanelli (Marie-Lord Cornbury's wife), Nomi Tichman (Queen Anne of England)
Set design: Mark Beard
Costumes by Jeffrey Wallach
Lighting: Deborah Constantine
Composer/Music director: Jeff Domoto
Wigs: Matt Doers & Isaac Davison
Fight director: Nathan De Coux
Stage Manager: Karen Sweeney
Theatre Askew at the Hudson Guild Theatre 441 West 26th Street 212-352-3101
From 1/23/09; closing 2/08/09.
Monday to Saturday at 8 PM, Saturday matinee at 2 PM, and Sunday at 5 PM.
Tickets are $18 / $15 for students & seniors
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on January 27th
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