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All the Queen's
Men

All the Queen's
Men

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New York's current governor is blind, and its previous governor resigned amid a call-girl scandal. But did you know that one of its earliest, Lord Cornbury, is rumored to have been a cross-dresser and was more than likely gay?

New York's current governor is blind, and its previous governor resigned amid a call-girl scandal. But did you know that one of its earliest, Lord Cornbury, is rumored to have been a cross-dresser and was more than likely gay?

Theatre Askew's grand production of Cornbury: The Queen's Governor will bring you up to speed.

Obie winner David Greenspan plays the colonial governor with a knowing and precise lilt while the Ridiculous Theatre Company's Everett Quinton brings a larger-than-life outrageousness to Pastor Van Dam, who works to oust the corrupt and cross-dressing governor. At the pastor's side in his campaign is Margareta De Peyster, played with villainy supreme by TransAmerica's Bianca Leigh. Mark Beard's rich trompe l'oeil false proscenium set, with its numerous drops and visible fly system, offers the just right environment of meta-tattiness.

"I felt like I was guided towards doing this project," says director Tim Cusack. Several years ago Cusack directed a reading of another play by writer William M. Hoffman when a novelist friend mentioned some curious information she had come across on a cross-dressing colonial governor. A week later, Cusack says he was talking to the playwright, "and I swear to God this is true, Bill said to me, 'Tim, I've written this play about an early British governor who was a cross-dresser and I think your company would be good for it.'"

Hoffman cowrote the play with the late Anthony Holland in the mid 1970s, but Theatre Askew's spritely production marks its first professional staging. Founded in 2004 by Cusack and Jason Jacobs, the company calls itself "New York's premiere producer of queer theater" and has the collateral to secure such bragging rights. Productions have twice been nominated for GLAAD Media Awards and include Bald Diva! a reinterpretation of Ionesco's absurdist The Bald Soprano, with gay couples set in materialist Chelsea, and i google myself, a dark work about the Internet and sexual obsession.

Playwright Hoffman, best known for As Is, the first Broadway play to deal with AIDS, and the libretto for the Metropolitan Opera's The Ghosts of Versailles, says he and Holland wrote the play because they "were pissed off no one was celebrating anything gay for the bicentennial, so wise asses that we were, we figured we would do a great American unknown hero."

A complicated and ambivalent hero, the historical record on Cornbury's cross-dressing is much debated. Recent examinations now claim the story is nothing more than slander spread by his political adversaries in an attempt to discredit him. Hoffman conducted his own exhaustive research while writing the play and dubs it "a fantasy based on fact" or "history as it should be." He is firmly convinced, however, that Cornbury was gay.

Theatre Askew's strong audience outreach around this production should also be applauded. Cornbury featured post-show discussions around issues presented in the play (full disclosure: I participated on the gender panel) and a website featuring smartly produced short videos about other peculiarities of New York's early history. The company's commitment to outreach is further evident in initiatives like T.A.Y.P.E. (Theatre Askew's Youth Performance Experience), which works with NYC's disadvantaged LGBTQA youths to create performance pieces out of their experiences.

Theatre Askew, as Cusack describes it, strives "to create space where everybody can be queer and express the parts of them that don't jive with the set of expectations the culture puts out there." The early 1700s governor might be surprised if he saw today's New York, but he is undoubtedly at home with Theatre Askew.

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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