With each passing go-round I get an enhanced appreciation for the wonderful job Ralph Lewis has done with Androboros. The natural question (“Why has no one tackled it before now?”) is swiftly answered: it is a damn hard nut. One might have thought PROHIBITIVELY hard. The author, Governor Robert Hunter, was a politician, not a playwright, so though the play is constantly funny and fascinating, his hand is not the steadiest when it comes to plot or character. His main object was wit, to lampoon his contemporaries.
Thus the next hurdle: the play is full of topical humor that had ceased to be topical 3 centuries ago (or so it would seem). George S. Kaufman said that “satire is what closes on Saturday night” — well, Saturday night was 303 years ago, and this play never even made it to OPENING night; it was only circulated as a pamphlet. On top of that, the style of the entire literary AGE (which happens to be one of my favorite literary periods) is likely to confound the modern sensibility. Like the work of Voltaire, Swift, Sterne and Fielding, the shape is rambling, picaresque, novelistic. The structure is episodic, not dramatic. The first section is merely to make fun of his contemporary’s personalities and procedures; the second is a scatological scheme by one of the villains (scatological humor is VERY big in 18th century humor); and the last section is a funny clownish prank played on the villain.
But there IS a through-line. We know who the hero is and who the villains are, and what are the CHARACTERISTICS of their villainy. And best of all, the political nature of the conflict has a direct bearing on the American system in general as well as our own political moment. This is clearly why Ralph thought the play not just worth doing right now, but IMPORTANT to do right now. And so he solved it. By hiring an infectiously charming, talented, diverse cast, and filling it with songs, dances, music and clowning, just as any play of its day would contain. He hired me to be the “Teller” — I explain the proceedings, and help you follow them. And most vitally — he connects it to now. He and the adapters tweak it ever so slightly but pointedly to point up parallels in our time, because theatre must LIVE — to succeed, it must always be about right now. Now…I think there may be some repercussions as a result of this. When we workshopped this play last year, the audience had strictly been “our” people. Who DOESN’T think the current leader is a bully and a jerk and a fool?
Ah…but the venue we are in this time around, perfect as it is for a play from 1714, also happens to be perhaps the most “patriotic” historical site in NYC. It is the very inn where George Washington said goodbye to his officers after the Revolution. And so (as I think we did last night) we may attract some curious audience members who…um…don’t hate our President? Personally, nothing on earth stirs my American patriotism like some of the words I and my fellow cast members get to say at the end of this play. But for others, “patriotism” means “no criticism”. I think we may have gotten some offended walk outs last night. In both cases: the reinforcement of our own belief in the Constitution, AND giving a good strong kick in the pants to the complacent, I think this is a case of theatre really doing its job. This is American theatre. Important American theatre. I hope you will come see it. (Signed, a Completely Corrupt Critic)
Tonight’s the official opening night, details are here: http://www.frauncestavernmuseum.org/events-calendar/2017/8/31/the-world-premiere-of-americas-first-play