Anthony J. Piccione
For me, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is always a nice day to reflect on the history of the United States, including on how the country was founded, what life was like before then, and how much of what happened in those times is surprisingly relevant to what’s going on in American society today. This year, in particular, I got treated to a nice history lesson when I got to go and experience a production of…well, a very important document in this nation’s history: the first published play in the history of the United States.
Written by Governor Robert Hunter and set in the year 1714 – back when New York was still a colony, and not yet the big city we think of today – the play tells a story that is filled with political satire about a system that faces some similar dilemmas and complaints to today. While the writing and publication of the play is credited with helping to lead to the 1st amendment of the U.S. Constitution – the right to free speech and free expression – being adopted, this adaptation is apparently the first time this play has ever been fully produced, centuries after it had been written.
While the slogan included in the production’s advertising is “Before Hamilton, before Washington there was Androboros”, it might as well have been “Before Trump, there was Androboros”. Indeed, this play – which revolves around a leader of an unpopular establishment being replaced by an insane, narcissistic clown, as depicted by actor Matt Roper – feels strangely timely, and much of the satirical humor highlighting the flaws and chaos in America’s political system has aged well, even though it was written decades before George Washington became our first American president.
A few of the newer bits – clearly added in for this modern adaptation – do almost come off like too much of a forced attempt to draw connections to modern times. (Examples include references to a “rigged system” and the appointment of a special prosecutor, as well as Androboros using terms favored today by Donald Trump such as “crooked” and “nasty woman”.) While some audience members seemed to enjoy it, I couldn’t help but wonder whether such changes in a modern adaptation add much to the quality of the play, especially with a play such as this, which already contains funny moments and natural parallels to modern events that can be found without such additions.
Still, this did not greatly detract from the overall experience, and it was still a solid production. The way in which Peculiar Works Project – and the production’s director, Ralph Lewis – chose to stage this production is worthy of praise. Taking place in the lovely Fraunces Tavern Museum – which, on its own, is a great spot to check out for those of you out there who are interested in history – this production has a fairly well-designed set, along with some excellent costumes by Cathy Small which do an excellent job at capturing the imagery of the time period of the play.
Aside from Mr. Roper’s solid portrayal of Androboros, some other performances that stand out include Oscar Castillo as Tom, Hank Lin as Mulligrub, and Oliver Burns and Zoe Raphael respectively as the church leaders Fizle and Flip, with the latter of those two also portraying the Deputy. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Trav S.D. as the Teller, Iftiaz Haroon as the Keeper, Benjamin Strate as the Speaker of the House, Roy Koshy as Coxcomb, Caiti Lattimer as Aesop, Bianca Ilich as Doodlesack and the Messenger, and Kendra Augustin as Solemn.
All in all, I quite enjoyed watching the world premiere of a play that more people in American theatre should be familiar with, not just because of current political events, but also to attain a greater knowledge of the history of theatre. The plot and biting political humor of the play remains potent today, and the enormous energy and talent put into this production make it worth checking out, and judging for yourself…
“Androboros: Villain of the State" – presented by Peculiar Works Project – runs at Fraunces Tavern Museum from October 9th to October 29th. For more information, please www.peculiarworks.org.
Photo: From L to R: Benjamin Strate (Speaker), Caiti Lattimer (Aesop), Roy Koshy (Coxcomb), Hank Lin (Mulligrub) and others
Anthony J. Piccione is a playwright, producer, screenwriter, activist, essayist, critic, poet and occasional actor based in New York City. His plays have previously been produced in NYC at various theaters and festivals such as the Midtown International Theatre Festival, the NYWinterfest and Manhattan Repertory Theatre, as well as Connecticut venues such as Playhouse on Park, Hole in the Wall Theater, the Windsor Art Center and Windham Theatre Guild. Additionally, his one-act play “Ebol-A-Rama” was recently published this year by Heuer Publishing (www.hitplays.com), and he has also previously worked as a teaching assistant at Hartford Children’s Theatre and New Britain Youth Theater, in addition to his work with OnStage Blog. He received his BA in Theatre from Eastern Connecticut State University in 2016, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild. To learn more about Mr. Piccione’s recent and upcoming productions, please visit www.anthonyjpiccione.com and be sure to follow him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and Instagram (anthonyjpiccione).