Written in 1592, John Lyly's Gallathea is seldom performed. The reasons are puzzling but might have something to do with his plot's being a little too close to Shakespeare's, and the hifalutin floweriness of his euphuistic prose, a style Lyly apparently made up and which became parodied even in his lifetime.
The play is full of old devices like gender-bending, shipwrecks, fickle gods, and a pastoral setting. Despite Gallathea's sunny innocence, it might have been a bit too daring for its time, right down to what now seems like the insignificant act of Lyly's naming his play after his heroine, something that Will seemed loath to do (remember Cymbeline?) and having two frightened dads spare their daughters' lives out of nothing but paternal love, though it mean the ruin of their village.
Every five years the god Poseidon demands that a little Greek village sacrifice its fairest virgin to him. Melebeus and Tyterus (Robert Sherrane and Paul James Bowen) have both won this unhappy lottery this time out, and dress up their two daughters, Gallathea and Phillida, as boys and send them away till the danger's over. The girls, played delightfully by Adrea Fletcher and Hannah Goss, meet in the woods ruled by Artemis and her nymphs, and fall in love with each other, each wanting to believe that the other is a real boy. In the meantime, Rafe, Robin, and Dick (Chris Catalano, Kevin Murphy, and Patrick Toon) have been shipwrecked, and Eros (Fred DeReau) takes revenge on a disdainful nymph by making the chaste followers of Artemis lovesick. As Gallathea's a comedy, everything shakes out in the end, but with a twist that must have been startling to audiences back in the day.
The cast was wonderful; even the high-powered stars at the recently seen Twelfth Night at the Delacorte didn't do a better job with their material than these actors, stuck in the auditorium/basketball court of the Presbyterian Church of Astoria, did with theirs. Standouts were Goss's lively Gallathea; Leigh Bush's sweet-voiced nymph, Ramia; DeReau's mischievous Eros, a precursor of Shakespeare's Puck; Alexander Bruehl's hunky and furious Poseidon; and Rachel Alt's fiercely proud Artemis. Tim Browning directed the large cast with a hand that was light and confident. The lighting was unexpectedly rich for such a setting, with a blue spot falling on one character and then broadening and whitening to embrace the entire stage area like a rising sun. Alt also designed the costumes, which in the case of the men were vaguely modern Grecian with watch caps, braces, and neckerchiefs. In the case of Artemis and her girls, Alt chose costumes that would be at home in a funky retro nightclub -- fringed halter tops, leather miniskirts with gold-chain link belts, and serpentine tattoos. The scenery, by Browning, Michael Fortunato, and Jason Vail, was simple: a painted backdrop of a meadow, the trunk of a tree, the stage steps planted with flowers. Gallathea is a play that deserves to be seen more often.
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Copyright 2002 Arlene McKanic