By John Laly
Directed by Jaki Demarest
The Rude Mechanicals are celebrating their 22nd anniversary with an online production of John Lyly’s “Gallathea” on Saturday, July 24th at 8 PM. The influence this play had on Shakespeare was profound, giving the Bard ideas, plot points, linguistic style, even a few lines plagiarized here and there. Shakespeare clearly loved this play. We hope you will, too.
The story goes like this:
Every five years, in the village of Lincolnshire, the god Neptune demands the sacrifice of the village’s most beautiful virgin. Gallathea and Phillida are candidates in the lottery no one wants to win, and they do not volunteer as tribute. So their fathers disguise them as boys, send them off to the woods to hide, the cross-dressed virgins meet, and unexpectedly, they fall in love. And several woodland nymphs fall in love with one or both of them. And a few gods fall in love with each other. A dodecahedron of love is all around, irrespective of gender or species.
One of the most subversive and marvelous comedies to have emerged in the last 2400 years or so, “Gallathea” features a same-sex, gender-fluid relationship that multiple gods and a whole village get behind and support, and it ends happily, with a marriage. Lyly’s treatment of the women is sympathetic and fiercely modern in interesting ways; Gallathea and Phillida fall genuinely in ‘unspotted’ love, a love that does not alter when it alteration finds. Each of them sees and knows that she is in love with another woman, and neither one pulls back. The goddess Venus comes up with a heteronormative plan to make one of them a man, but never decides which, and at the end of the play, two women are joyfully led off by their families, friends, neighbors and deities to be married.
We like to think it’s happily ever after.
- Tyterus, a shepherd: William Brodie
- Gallathea, his daughter, disguised as Tyterus II: Claudia Bach
- Melebeus, a shepherd: Seain Gutridge
- Phillida, his daughter, disguised as Melebeus II: Erin Nealer
- Venus, goddess of love: Melissa Schick
- Cupid, god of affection and desire and son of Venus: Lou Zammichieli
- Neptune, god of the sea: Wes Dennis
- Diana, goddess of virginity and of the hunt: Katie Wanschura
- Eurota, a nymph of Diana: Allison McAllister
- Ramia, a nymph of Diana: Sarah Pfanz
- Telusa, a nymph of Diana: Lisa Hill-Corley
- An Augur: Liana Olear
- Ericthinis, another countryman of the shepherds: Samuel Kopel
- Hebe, his virgin daughter: Joshua Engel
- Rafe, son of a Miller, brother of Robin and Dick: Alan Duda
- Robin, son of a Miller, brother of Rafe and Dick: Ed Myers
- Dick, son of a Miller, brother of Rafe and Robin: Joshua Engel
- A Mariner, their first master: Lisa Hill-Corley
- An Alchemist, their second master: William Brodie
- An Astronomer, their third master: Mikki Barry
by Melissa Sites
Greenbelt News Review
Z o o m t e c h n o l o g y i s a blessing for the Rude Mechanicals, the theater group in residence at the Greenbelt Arts Center, as they present another important and rarely
produced classic of the Elizabethan stage, John Lyly’s Gallathea (1588). Amazingly,
this entire show from the script to the performance was produced in two weeks in celebration of the company’s 22nd anniversary.
Creative use of filters is a big highlight of the pro-duction, which featured the transformation of two young women (Claudia Bach as Gallathea and Erin Nealer as Phillida) into sweetly bearded young men. Instead of having to glue on fake beards, the filter technology did it for them. Both Bach and Nealer gave delicate and sweet performances in their maiden and young man guises. Prominent characters included filter-blushing nymphs who are followers of Diana, as well as Cupid, Venus and the play’s villain, Neptune (Wes Dennis), who sometimes appeared wearing a scary water-monster filter.
The play’s 90-minute cut is fast-moving, with no confusing plot twists. The two young women disguised themselves as men in order to avoid being sacrificed to Neptune, who required the sacrifice every five years because long ago his temple in the area was destroyed. A side plot involved three foolish millers’ sons, who roamed the forest trying to decide which careers they should follow: mariner, astronomer, alchemist or possibly, a fortune-teller. Another plot line involved disputes between the mischievous and disrespectful love-god Cupid (Lou Zammichieli), Diana (Katie Wanschura) and her nymphs (Allison McAlister, Jaki Demarest and Sarah Pfanz), who were sworn to chastity.
The fast-moving cut, inclusion of pop songs and helpful title cards between scenes, made the play accessible to audiences who may be skeptical of “thee and thou” language. An entertaining scene was the courtroom trial of Cupid by Diana’s nymphs, which was in rhyming couplets. A great “practical effect” (not digital) was the terrifying monster Agar, sent by Neptune to devour the selected beautiful young maiden. Gallathea’s father, Tityrus (William Bodie), was very fun in his scene with Agar as was Liana Olear in her role as the Augur (another fortune-teller).
The longest monologue of the play was presented by Hebe (Joshua Engel), a maiden who is supposedly not very beautiful but who represents the only chance for the village to placate Neptune with a sacrifice. The speech was delivered with melo-dramatic flair against overly dramatic music.
As befits a comedy, the play ends with a wedding. The two young women fall in love while disguised as men and remain in love even though they acknowledge to the crowd of humans and gods that they are both maidens. They happily embrace and enjoy one another. Venus offered to transform one of them into a man but this does not occur during the action of the play. Since women were played by boys on the Elizabethan stage, this type of gender swapping and confusion was common, but having two women fall in love and marry is an unusual and happy ending. Presented live over Zoom, and then recorded, Gallathea is available for viewing on YouTube on the Rude Mechanicals “noholdsbard” channel. Donations are encouraged at greenbeltartscenter.org.