I used to shill for a stodgy uptown joint called the New-York Historical Society. (Don’t ask about the hyphen). The oldest museum in New York, its holdings include the complete set of Audubon originals, significant paintings from the Hudson River School, the desk at which Clement Clark Moore wrote “The Night Before Christmas”, and relics from 9-11.
Notwithstanding the worth of those objects, perhaps the Society’s most beloved piece is an early 18th century portrait of what appears to be a very ugly transvestite with five o’clock shadow. For years—centuries, really—people thought it was a portrait of Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury, the colonial governor of New York and New Jersey, who was reputed to have a taste for women’s clothing. Recent scholarship has cast doubt on that habit, as well as the identity of the subject in the portrait. However, my motto has always been: PRINT THE LEGEND. As the public relations officer of the N-YHS I always at the very least privileged the legend.
Imagine my delight when I heard that two of my favorite actors, David Greenspan and Everett Quinton, would be starring in Cornbury: The Queen’s Governor, a Ridiculous style play about Cornbury’s alleged antics. Furthermore, the play is presented by Theatre Askew, which did such a terrific job lampooning I, Claudius. For this inveterate lover of history, the Ridiculous, and drag (when it’s not on me), this is a fortuitous confluence.
And I’m glad to report the product was everything I hoped for and more. Greenspan, of course, is only ever and always himself, but this role makes an ideal setting for the jewel that he is. Luxuriating around the space, eyelids halfway drawn, sculpting the atmosphere with his hands as he sings out orders to his obedient and put-upon minions, Greenspan’s Cornbury is every inch a Queen. Quinton, who’s played his fair share of similar characters too, acquits himself no less favorably as the nasty, prudish Dutch clergyman Pastor Van Dam, a character not a little reminiscent of the Hume Cronyn-inspired security guard he played in Natural Born Killers. Furthermore, the cast also includes someone named Eugene the Poogene. The rest of the ensemble are also terrific, but they aren’t named Eugene the Poogene, so I don’t mention them.
The play itself was either written in 1976 or is “new”, (both have been asserted) and is penned by some combination of Anthony Holland (who died in 1988 ) and William Hoffman, best known as the author of As Is. The play is terrific in details – the speech is exquisitely accurate and full of double entendre. But as a whole it is somewhat formless, with Cornbury being “dethroned” at the end of the first act, leaving the entire post-intermission as an anti-climax. But that’s merely the plot. Like any good comedy of its type, it is a tapestry of gags. Director Tim Cusack seems to have located them all, including many that probably weren’t there, and deftly dialed up the schtick-meter up to 11, so that when the plot looses steam, there is enough merriment to sustain our interest to the curtain. As an amateur historian, I am proud to say I didn’t learn a thing.
Through February 8 at the Hudson Guild Theatre. Tickets and info: http://www.theatreaskew.com