Naming a queer character “Cornbury” sounds like a very smutty pun. But it isn’t . . . entirely. A cousin of Queen Anne’s, Edward Hyde, Viscount Cornbury, really did exist: He served as the British governor of New York and New Jersey from 1702 to 1708. A singularly incompetent administrator, he’s best remembered for garbing himself in women’s clothing. (A portrait reputedly of Cornbury, sporting an elaborate headdress and peacock-colored gown, hangs in the New-York Historical Society.) When questioned about his sartorial choices, Hyde apparently responded that as he represented Queen Anne, “I ought to represent her as faithfully as I can.”
This proud transvestitism suggested Hyde as a suitable hero to playwrights Anthony Holland and William F. Hoffman, who penned Cornbury: The Queen’s Governor, now being produced by Theatre Askew. Holland and Hoffman’s script, though, powders over some of the trickier bits of Cornbury’s history—graft, religious persecution, sottishness—foibles less adorable than a penchant for skirts and stays.
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, and the script is unbearably wordy—though it does contain the unusual and succinct insult, “Go fuck a beaver.” Cornbury boasts a fine wardrobe, but his play could use some tailoring.