At Fraunces Tavern, a 300-Year-Old Play Gets Its World Premiere

From left: Benjamin Strate, Caiti Lattimer, Roy Koshy, Hank Lin and cast in a dance scene. Photos: DLW Photography

Oct. 14, 2017

Take a step back in history with "Androboros: Villain of the State," a rollicking and bawdy production now playing at the Fraunces Tavern.

Imagine New York before the Revolutionary War, before the Declaration of Independence, when the city had 6,000 residents, all living below Maiden Lane. Fraunces Tavern was a relatively new establishment then and along with Trinity Church is one of the few landmarks of that era that remain today. It’s a fitting venue therefore for this satirical play written in 1714 by Robert Hunter. He had arrived in New York four years earlier to take up the post of Royal Governor. Though the text was published in New York, there are no records of any performances, making this production the world premiere. Besides being a historical curiosity, the play’s skewering of political shenanigans and mega-egos has unsettling similarities with today.

The action, based on true events, revolves around vicious political in fighting in which the local legislature overthrows the Royal Governor —called the Keeper in the play—and replaces him with their own larger than life choice. Androboros (a corrupted version of the Greek work for man-eater) is played by Matt Roper who gives a strong performance with equal parts threatening demeanor and fragile ego.

Hunter had never been to America before he arrived to govern and clearly dismissed the locals as bumbling buffoons, giving them comic names in the play such as Mulligrub and Doodlesack.  To undermine the Keeper, the local pastor, Fizle, played by Oliver Burns, fakes a break in at Trinity Church in which vestments and prayer books are “befouled” with feces. As gross and bizarre as this may sound, it really happened at Trinity Church. The crime was never solved but the rector, the Rev. William Vesey, was suspected by some of having staged it in order to help the Lieutenant Governor Francis Nicholson overthrow Hunter. It’s a rather convoluted story and the first half of the play may be difficult for today's audiences to follow if they haven’t read the program notes closely.

However, as the Keeper cooks up his revenge in the second and third acts the comedy dials up a notch, including a series of droll songs performed sweetly by Caiti Latimer. To foil Androboros, a plot involving a fake sorcerer is hatched to convince him that he is in fact dead and a ghost. Kendra Augustin plays the sorcerer with verve in a spangled turban and robe. It’s a reminder that magic and witchcraft were parts of daily life in old New York.

That time-slip element is one of the key fascinations of this play, directed by Ralph Lewis. You’re watching it in a building that was around when Hunter penned his lines. One can imagine plotters meeting over ale and pipes at the Fraunces Tavern and then making the short walk over to Trinity to absolve their souls. Are their ghosts watching, and laughing that this play got the outcome wrong because the British did not remain in power?

For history lovers, this amusing snapshot of a moment in the city’s history will be ample reason to linger over some libations in the tavern below.

"Androboros: Villain of the State" written by Gov. Robert  Hunter (1714), adapted by S.M.Dale (2017) and directed by Ralph Lewis. Cast: Kendra Augustin, Oliver Burns, Oscar Castillo, Iftiaz Haroon, Caiti Latimer and Matt Roper.

Performances are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until Oct. 29 at Fraunces Tavern, 54 Pearl St. The show runs 80 minutes. For more information and tickets, click here.