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picture - Cornbury: The Queen's GovernorTheater Review

by Kestryl Lowrey

published February 6, 2009


Cornbury: The Queen’s Governor

now playing Off Broadway at the Hudson Guild Theater

through February 8


In the New York Historical Society, there hangs a portrait of Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury—English governor of New York and New Jersey from 1702-1708.  Clad in a gown of blue velvet and satin, this alleged painting of Cornbury portrays him as the spitting image of his first cousin, Queen Anne… in attire, if not in facial features.  Indeed, Cornbury was notorious for his habit of dressing publically as Anne, a proclivity that doubtlessly garnered censure in his day.


Compelled by Cornbury’s portrait and history, Theatre Askew’s Cornbury: The Queen’s Governor fictionally recounts events surrounding Hyde’s governorship, crafting a light-hearted and ridiculous satire on intolerance and acceptance.  Written by William M. Hoffman, this playful portrait of Lord Cornbury and colonial New York enlivens issues of inclusion, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and diversity with humor, farce, and a fabulous sense of style.


Obsessed with his gowns and robes, foppishly effeminate Hyde (David Greenspan) first seems as shallow as the excessively narrow chaise he lounges on (“Sell Staten Island!” he squeals, when informed that he does not have the funds to commission a new dress).  However, it gradually becomes apparent that he has far greater breadth and depth than the repressed Puritans that he governs.  Under the skilled direction of Tim Cusack, the actors push their characters to the brink of ridiculous melodramatic expression. 


picture - Cornbury: The Queen's GovernorMark Beard’s set features opulent veneers swiftly betrayed by their theatricality, echoing the tone of the production as a whole.  Meanwhile, Jeffrey Wallach’s costumes teeter between period style and absurd details (observe, for instance, the bath poufs ornamenting one of Cornbury’s gowns).  These flights of ridiculousness inject a bit of camp into the play.  I would expect nothing less from a cross-dressing governor.  


The production only falters (and briefly, at that) during the occasional ensemble townsfolk scene, where overbearing accents and an apparent lack of purpose make it difficult to follow what (if anything) is occurring.  Thankfully, these scenes are few, and do not noticeably detract from the production as a whole.  The cast as a rule is strong; it is only in the role of generic townsfolk that the ensemble stumbles.


Cornbury: The Queen’s Governor raises questions of belonging and freedom with a jaunty wink that stretches across centuries.  Politics today are no less ridiculous than those that Cornbury faced… though today, they have considerably less style.


kestryl.lowrey @


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