Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cornbury: The Queen's Governor

photo: Gustavo Monroy

Historical lore has long held, perhaps erroneously, that Edward Hyde (aka Lord Cornbury), New York's governor in the early 1700's until he was forcibly ousted from office, was an outrageous cross-dresser and rumored sodomite. This campy farcical comedy (by Anthony Holland and William M. Hoffman) depicts him as a silly lavender-scented fop whose lavish wardrobe bills nearly bankrupt the city. He's meant to be someone we cheer for, as the small minded Dutch citizens all but light torches to storm the Governor's mansion, but the play's sensibilities are decades out of date and lack any naughty kick: we're past cheering cross dressing for its own sake, especially when it's as cutified as it is here and divorced of sexuality. Before the play becomes hopelessly monotonous, David Greenspan's performance has some appeal - he can twist a line reading for maximum effect - but he would be a lot more enjoyable if he was the only one chewing the scenery. Instead, nearly every one in the cast is pitched for hysteria as if they're in a bad Mel Brooks movie. (One notable exception: Christian Pedersen) Paul Rudnick might have done something both funny and thematically interesting around the Cornbury myth but these playwrights simply use the character as an 18th century poster boy for diversity, with his Native American friend, African-American handmaiden, lesbian barkeeps, and Jewish accountant meant to lend him rainbow coalition cred (even as the play tries to score un-PC yuks off each).

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