Androboros: Villain of the State
America’s first play, a ribald political satire from 1714, gets a carnival style, site-specific production with new songs and dances.
Director Ralph Lewis, apparently not trusting the material – or finding the play too dated, has staged a carnival-esque version (adapted by S.M. Dale in June 2016) which includes 16 songs and musical numbers, in addition to making contemporary references to the Trump Administration, as well as current New York City politics. The result, a series of Saturday Night Live political skits, is neither faithful to the original nor witty for a modern audience, more of a confused jumble than a historical rediscovery.
The play is based on a true crime that occurred in New York, The Vestment Scandal of 1714. Sent over from England in 1710 to be the new governor of the colony of New York, General Hunter found the assembly who had to deal previously with bad rulers extremely difficult to work with. After religious strife broke out in the matter of Mr. Poyers, the new Anglican minister appointed to the parish of Jamaica, Poyers sided with Rev. William Vesey, first rector of Trinity Church, against the governor.
When the vestments of the rector of Trinity Church were befouled on Feb. 10, 1714 in the ongoing feud between the Presbyterians and the Anglican, Hunter had had enough. Soon after he wrote and published Androboros in which he satirized Rev. Vesey as Reverend Fizle, his Lieutenant Governor Francis Nicolson as the title character “Androboros,” a corruption of the Greek for “man-eater,” and other political enemies as Coxcomb, Mulligrub and Doodlesack. The Clerk of the Assembly he names “Tom of Bedlam,” a clue to what he thought of New York politics at the time, while he portrayed himself as the “Keeper” who is kept from doing his job by the rebellious local officials.
The complicated plot concerns the attempt by the Assembly to unseat the Keeper and replace him with the totally unsuitable and laughable General Androboros. When the Minority Leader, Tom of Bedlam, gets wind of the Vestment Plot to discredit the Keeper by Reverend Fizle and Reverend Flip in order to coronate Androboros, he sets out to give them a taste of their own medicine. The production switches genders of characters and makes use of various accents, all of which only makes it more difficult to follow.
Lewis stages most of the scenes at the far end of the hall from the audience, and allows actors to rant, mumble, and speak too fast. The amateurishness of the acting by a cast of eleven does not help matters. A totally unnecessary prologue establishes that the script was originally a printed play, while an awkward and uncomfortable Trav S.D. is called upon before each act to read excerpts from Peter A. Davis’ From Androboros to the First Amendment: A History of America’s First Play, published in 2015, in order to set the play in context. These notes should have appeared in the program rather than interrupt the flow of the play.
Aside from the extraneous songs and dances, the adaptation renames the NY anachronisms for 1714 include “the system is rigged,” “You’re fired!,” Rocket Man,” Assembly, “the Halls of Congress” along with references to Mayor De Blasio, and disgraced politicians Silver, Skelos, Hevesi, Spitzer and Weiner. Other not funny
anachronisms for 1714 include “the system is rigged,” “you’re fired!,” “Rocket Man”
and “when they go low, I go lower.” The elaborate clown costumes by Cathy Small and the uncredited make-up only add to the muddle. While there is pungent political satire in the material, the Peculiar Works Project production is a jumble of various ideas which does not make a commedia dell’arte circus out of a Restoration comedy.
Androboros: Villain of the State (through October 29, 2017)
Peculiar Works Project
Fraunces Tavern, 54 Pearl Street, corner of Broad Street, in Manhattan
For tickets call 212-425-1778 ex. 213 or visit http://www.frauncestavernmusuem.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
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