Three hundred years after it was written, America's first published play, Androboros: Villain of the State, has just had its world premiere at Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan.
The play was written by Governor Robert Hunter as a commentary on the fractious political climate of New York in the early 1700s. Following the English takeover of New Amsterdam in 1664, a succession of governors were appointed by the crown, each of whom had his own conflicts with the local populace. At the heart of Androboros lies the fact that three factions were constantly vying for power in the colony: the appointed governor (always an outsider), the colonial assembly (made up of locals, but fractured from within by its own disagreements), and the church. The rector of Trinity Church, William Vesey, had a particular dislike for Hunter. When someone befouled the vestments in the church sacristy in 1714, Vesey blamed Hunter, while Hunter -- as evidenced in this only lightly veiled satire -- clearly thought it was an inside job designed to make Hunter look bad.
If you are a student of early American drama or fascinated by the real-life drama that was New York in the English colonial era, then this play is for you. An able cast under the direction of the Peculiar Works Project's co-artistic director Ralph Lewis inhabits these roles with glee. In keeping with the commedia dell'arte origins of the play, the characters are all given ridiculous names (Vesey is Fizzle, Hunter is the Keeper, and the pompous man meant to save them all is Androboros ("man eater")), and the actors live up to their monikers, particularly Matt Roper as Androboros and Caiti Lattimer as Aesop, who is always quick with a story -- whether anyone wants to hear it or not.
The company also does a good job keeping the 80-minute play moving at the brisk clip that farce necessitates. While Fraunces Tavern is mostly a 1907 recreation of a colonial building, it is nice to see the work staged in a building that at least has its origins in Hunter's era.
The play runs on weekends through the end of October; tickets are $20 each and are available at www.frauncestavernmuseum.org.
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