Lance Davis on "Our American Cousin"
Updated: Aug 27, 2022
We are delighted to begin our 23rd season with a seldom-seen British comedy from the pen of Mr. Thomas Taylor. “Our American Cousin” was one of 100 plays that Taylor wrote in a long career that he began as a player with the Cambridge University Drama Society and continued as editor of the famous British satirical magazine, "Punch".
“Cousin” is a classic “fish out of water” story - a “rube” in a foreign land - in the long tradition of Voltaire's "Candide", Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court", and Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" that continues to be popular today. Fans of “Downton Abbey” may remember the opening episodes, when Canadian Mathew Crawley inherits Lord Robert's estate, much to the shock of the Old Guard. And of course in real life we have the upstart Meghan Markle crashing the court of Windsor.
Taylor plays on this tension between old and new, the entrenched and the free-swinging, much as George Bernard Shaw would do later in the century. The themes have maintained a particularly vibrant resonance on both sides of "the pond".
I feel a personal affinity to the play for its more historic significance. Our Davis family lore claims that a great –great uncle named Delaney engineered the audience shuttle from Baltimore to Washington on the night of April 14 and was playing cards in the Ford's Theater “Green Room” when the infamous John Wilkes Booth ran through to make his escape. It was a tragic night, of course, that will forever be marked in American history. Booth was an actor who knew well both the Ford Theater and the play. He timed his shot to the biggest laugh in the play - "you sockdollagizin' ol' mantrap!" - to cover the noise. He had the athleticism to leap to the stage, and make his way to the alley where his horse was waiting.
We hope you'll join us for our "radio style" readings of "Our American Cousin"and participate in the melodramatic responses. 80 minutes. Refreshments. Air conditioned. Masks, please. Theater is a social event. And it's so good to be together again. Tickets can be bought right here.