Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cornbury: The Queen's Governor


By William M. Hoffman and Anthony Holland. Directed by Tim Cusack. Theatre Askew at the Hudson Guild Theatre. (CLOSED)

Inspired by a possibly apocryphal piece of New York history involving a cross-dressing English colonial governor, Cornbury divides critics with its blend of Ridiculous Theatre-style camp, farce, and queer politics. All the critics praise David Greenspan's turn in the lead role, and most similarly enjoyed Everett Quinton's performance as the heavy; but while many enjoyed those elements so much they're willing to overlook the play's dramaturgical flaws, others are not so forgiving, finding the show a shticky grab bag well past its expiration date. A favorite quote, from the eminently quotable Trav S.D.: "As an amateur historian, I am proud to say I didn’t learn a thing."

Offoffonline A
(Adrienne Cea) Greenspan has a playful nature and a charming magnetism. He appears to be having fun with his eccentric character, much to the credit of Holland and Hoffman’s witty dialogue, costume designer, Jeffrey Wallach’s exaggerated gowns and set designer, Mark Beard’s unique scenery all of which give him great material to have fun with...Watching Greenspan glide across the stage draped in outrageous fashion designs also delivers a series of hilarious visuals.

Time Out NY A-
(Adam Feldman) On David Greenspan’s lips, every line of dialogue is a little lemon drop, and his pucker doubles as a kiss. He is a specialist in dryly tangy gay camp, and his skills are put to ample use in Cornbury...William M. Hoffman and Anthony Holland’s script is like a winking companion piece to Derek Jarman’s aggro-queer Edward II; it has a goofy, anything-goes spirit, matched by Tim Cusack’s likably ramshackle production. And although the party goes on too long—the show’s corset could use 30 minutes of tightening—you’ll have a gay old time.

Backstage A-
(Leonard Jacobs) As he minces, flounces, and flits, watching David Greenspan as Edward Hyde--history recalls him as Lord Cornbury, the cross-dressing colonial governor of New York and New Jersey from 1702 to 1708--is a trés gay fey treat...The idea behind Theatre Askew's whimsical production is that something meaningful and contemporary can be gleaned from this fantasia about a footnote in the annals of sexuality...Musical numbers bog down its campy speed, emphasizing that not all in the cast reach the Ridiculous heights achieved by Greenspan and Quinton. It's not just Greenspan's fiendish way with a saucy quip ("How the French worship the enema"), but the pleasure taken in queer madness, divinely told.

Travalanche A-
(Trav S.D.) 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...Furthermore, the cast also includes someone named Eugene the Poogene...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.

CurtainUp B+
(Elyse Sommer) If the late Charles Ludlum's [sic] 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 [sic] theater something of a downtown cult venture...Greenspan is very much the evening's star...As part of the Dutch contingent Everett Quinton is hilarious as the pious but bigoted pastor Van Dam...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.

New York Times B
(Charles Isherwood) The camp-as-Christmas style of the show, directed by Tim Cusack for Theater Askew, recalls the heady frolics of Charles Ludlam, the playwright and actor who led the Ridiculous Theatrical Company for two decades before his death in 1987. In the person of Everett Quinton, who plays a righteous Dutch pastor bent on wresting power from the sartorially wayward governor, the production boasts a direct link to that brilliant company. Mr. Quinton was Mr. Ludlam’s longtime partner and frequent co-star, and his fire-breathing oratory and angry expectorations in quasi-Dutch provide some of the funniest moments in the show. And in David Greenspan, the marvelously odd downtown actor who plays the title role, the play has an interpreter more than equal to the task of imbuing a historical footnote with theatrical allure...But the colorful performances cannot distract you from the play’s potholed surface and the often long pauses between good gags. The scenes seem to be arrayed almost at random, and the story meanders in unnecessary directions.

New Theatre Corps B
(Jason Fitzgerald) In this example of what Hoffman calls “revanchist revisionist history, or history as…it should have been,” the Lord Cornbury becomes a queer comic-book hero...This project of deconstruction by theatrical silliness was once exemplified by the late Charles Ludlam’s Theatre of the Ridiculous, to whose aesthetic Cornbury owes an obvious debt...And director Tim Cusack is wise to cast Everett Quinton, Ludlam’s partner and heir, as the Puritan pastor. But the rest of the ensemble struggles with the self-conscious style of the Ridiculous, despite glimpses of success in Ashley Bryant (as Hyde’s African slave) and Julia Campanelli (as his besotted wife)...As a theatrical experience, it reveals the potential of Hoffman and Holland’s play while leaving space for a more definitive production in the future.

Village Voice B-
(Alexis Soloski) David Greenspan, no stranger to feminine adornments on the stage, gives a delightful turn in the titular role. His Cornbury is teasing, charming, infuriating, and a dab hand with an épée. And Everett Quinton and Bianca Leigh have a fine time as the grim Dutch who oppose him. Mark Beard's set, a marvel of trompe l'oeil absurdity, deserves royal praise. Yet the show's not nearly as much fun as these impish performances and scenery should allow. Much of director Tim Cusack's supporting cast perform it too hestitantly [sic}, and the script is unbearably wordy—though it does contain the unusual and succinct insult, "Go fuck a beaver."

Theatermania C+
(Dan Balcazo) Greenspan delivers just the right combination of haughtiness and camp, even if he doesn't look very attractive in the dresses that costume designer Jeffrey Wallach has outfitted him in -- particularly the cheap-looking blue gown that he initially wears. Quinton plays his part broadly, but with an intensity that makes him both funny and mesmerizing...On the downside, several of the supporting players are incredibly weak...Much of the blame has to be laid at the feet of director Tim Cusack, who has not been able to guide his company of actors in a coherent performance style. The production is also hampered by Mark Beard's set design.

American Theatre Web C
(Andy Propst) Neither the script nor Tim Cusack's staging manage to satisfyingly meld two diametrically opposed views of the Cornbury tale. The play and the production are certainly graced by a number of gifted actors who give first-rate performances. As Cornbury, David Greenspan delivers a deliciously mercurial performance that's a mix of drag queen camp and well-observed naturalism. His ability to wed such distinct styles into his performance is what gives the piece genuine heft...Unfortunately, sermonizing creeps in, as Cornbury's persecution and eventual imprisonment is condemned as being both politically, and more dangerously, philosophically, motivated...Just as the play and performances experience a curious sort of disconnect, so too do the visual elements of the production.

Show Showdown C-
(Patrick Lee) 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...David Greenspan's performance has some appeal.

Variety D+
(Sam Thielman) David Greenspan is a perfect lady as the title character in Theater Askew's new production, but Tim Cusack's direction is hysterical in the worst possible way. William M. Hoffman and the late Anthony Holland may even have written a good play, who knows? It's impossible to understand a word of it here over the production's assaultive crassness. Arguably the most frustrating thing about "Cornbury" is the potential for a very funny deconstruction of 18th-century restoration comedy, glimpsed every now and then in Greenspan's foppish perf and in Julia Campanelli's occasionally cute turn as his governor's klepto wife.

Offoffonline A 13; TONY A- 12; Backstage A- 12; Travalanche A- 12; CurtainUp B+ 11; NY Times B 10; New Theatre Corps B 9; Village Voice B- 9; Theatermania C+ 8; American Theatre Web C 7; Just Shows To Go You C- 6; Variety D+ 5; TOTAL: 115/12=9.58 (B)

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