Red Bull Theater Reads John Lyly’s Gallathea

Love conquers all things but itself

and ladies all hearts but their own

from the coda in Gallathea

The Red Bull Theater managed to confound me once again with their outstanding reading of a classic play that I was totally unaware of…and all the while I am wondering how to write about it without spoilers! Spoilers? The play was written by John Lyly in 1585 and first performed New Year’s Day 1588. How could there possibly be spoilers? So spoil on I will!

This play comes across as incredibly contemporary and Red Bull plays into that feeling. I will admit I was a bit suspicious by that aspect at first given the age of the play…but it is true to its history. The one issue modern viewers may suffer from is out lack of a robust classical education. We will recognize the Roman gods who are primary characters here but won’t necessarily know their interpersonal histories or relationships…and that may inhibit some of our understanding of the underlying humor. But Mr. Lyly does an admirable job of explaining their attributes as they are introduced, so we do understand why they are resident to the play.

And our story: Through its history, a small waterfront town has angered Neptune by destroying his temple. His retribution is that every five years the fairest maiden is to be tied to an oak tree dedicated to him and she is taken away by the monster Agar. Well the fifth year is upon us and it is time to select the maiden. So our opening scenes are two fathers with fair young daughters who are determined to protect them from Neptune.

First we encounter Tityrus and his daughter Gallathea clad in boy’s clothing. Tityrus had brought Gallathea to Neptune’s tree and explains the situation and his intention to protect her by hiding her gender. Gallathea objects that this goes against her body and mind and it would be better to consent to the sacrifice and die honorably to protect the village than live a lie. But eventually consent she does and is sent out into the woods to hide until the fateful day has passed.

And then we meet Melebeus with a similar scheme and he presents his plan to his daughter, Phillida, who is also dressed as a boy. She too protests a bit but quickly acquiesces to the will of her father. And then she too is sent into the woods to hide until it is safe to return.

Now, we are all familiar with women who assume male personas in Elizabethan plays and it usually results in a bit of playful mayhem and a great deal of comedy, and Lyly gives us exactly that in spades.

Of course Gallathea and Phillada meet in the wood and are drawn to each other…mainly they state because they are unsure how to act like boys and want to use the other for a role model. Of course that breaks down almost immediately as they realize how ‘fair’ the other appears and would take them for a maiden if they in fact weren’t a boy. And of course they start to develop feelings for each other assured that it is okay since they are a maiden and the other is a boy. But as we listen in on their conversations, they aren’t quite sure.

And here is one of the best parts of the play as Gallathea and Phillida question each other on their backgrounds and gender and history. Olivia Rose Barresi plays Gallathea and Layla Khoshnoudi plays Phillida and these two actors display the coy, the flirt, the doubt, and the growing affection in the scene very clearly…it is surprising that they don’t understand the truth of the matter as it is clear to us as the audience. And Barresi and Khoshnoudi also hit all of the humor high notes and the swing and sway of the poetry in their lines and play off each other in just an assured and amazing way. And by the time we are done here they are clearly in love with each other.

There are two sub-plots here…the first quite necessary…brings Cupid to the fore as he causes anguish amongst the chaste nymphs of Diana by causing them to fall in love. This brings an angry Diana to enslave Cupid and she destroys his bows and arrows. The will bring Venus to appear a bit later in the amazing conclusion.

The other sub-plot isn’t as obvious to me as a 21st Century denizen. We have three brothers shipwrecked nearby who set off to make their fortunes in the woods and instead have misadventures with a number of masters of dubious arts. Now they may simply be comic relief and their lines would certainly lend credence to that. They may be proof that the lads of the period are NOT worthy of our two female protagonists. Or they may have been a necessary device to employ as many actors as possible in the play. (If you have ideas, I’d like to hear them)

Now the play gets dark. Tityrus and Melebeus deny having fair daughters and without Gallathea nor Phillida about, no one can prove otherwise…so the forlorn Haebe is selected as the sacrifice. And Haebe has a lot to say about her plight in the highest drama soliloquy this side of the Avon. She decries her fate in the most direct and dire fashion and denies…denies being the fairest. And then apparently Agar doesn’t accept her as the sacrifice because she isn’t fair enough? OH talk about woman scorned. Helen Cespedes gives us all of the drama and humor resident in Haebe.

And then Deus et Deus et Deus ex machina. And we have the denouement as all of our major characters appear…Neptune to wreak havoc on the town for their trying to fool him and the still angry Diana and Venus in search of her Cupid and of course all of our mortals to suffer their fates. But Venus takes the lead here. When the ruse around Gallathea and Phillida is exposed and it is discovered that they love each other…she is willing to accept that. The other gods maybe not so much nor the fathers…but Venus brokers a peace between Neptune and the town and Diana and Cupid and gets Cupid released. And promises to allow Gallathea and Phillida to marry but she will change one to a boy at the church. And despite their earlier protestations when being dressed in boy’s clothing, each is readily accepting of that given the opportunity to stay with the other while each father objects to his daughter being changed. But Venus wins out and as Tityrus eventually shrugs, what can you do, they’re gods. But guess what, that transformation never happens.

Now, I have certainly gone on too long about the play itself…and given you all the spoilers to be had. But on to the presentation of the reading.

screen shot from the Red Bull Theater Zoom reading of Gallathea captured by AIP

From a cast standpoint, RBT has perfectly selected actors who understand and play to the strengths of Zoom. Facial expressions and voice inflections are more important here that on the big stage. That is probably not an easy skill to pick up in a hurry but the RBT casts are now masters of that. Love you all!!!

And as you see from the screen shot, the technical staff has done wonders with tying the background together and presenting the cast clearly. During the play, the movement from one act to the next and one group of speaking roles to the next was fluid and seamless. Thank you for letting the audience get lost in the words and not notice the infrastructure! RBT is one of the best troupes at getting this right.

So what to do next? Well…starting tomorrow Red Bull Theater will be presenting a modern take on Gallathea with a reading of MJ Kaufman’s GALATEA, based on the play that I just described. Want to see it? It premieres live tomorrow evening and will be available to stream through Friday evening…Details HERE!

Presented in collaboration with WP THEATERGalatea is written by WP Playwrights Lab Alum MJ Kaufman (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, How to Live on Earth), and directed by Will Davis (India Pale Ale, Men on Boats). The cast includes Grammy Award-winner Ty DefoeEsco Jouléy (High Maintenance), Jo Lampert (Hundred DaysJoan of Arc), Aneesh Sheth (Netflix’s Jessica Jones), Futaba Shioda (Rent 20th Anniversary tour), and TL Thompson (Is This a Room) and more.

I have some thoughts on the future of virtual theater rattling around in the recesses of my brain…I’ve mentioned that before…but this company is one of the reasons I feel there is a change coming!!

Celebrating Our First Anniversary At An Intuitive Perspective.

I am not exactly sure when to celebrate our first anniversary…but I actually published our first post on March 20, 2020, so I am going to use today as our official birthday.

For those of you who have visited here before and read our Welcome to An Intuitive Perspective page know that I am a fan, student, and practitioner of the arts and culture. I have a BFA in art education and at one time or another produced prints, photos, watercolors, and oil paintings. And there was a bit of time in high school and college when I played in a number of rock, blues, and proto-punk bands. I showed work in the art rental and sales gallery of the Art Institute of Chicago, was represented by a north loop gallery in Chicago, and had art in a number of regional shows. But all of those were so last century so to speak. And of course I have attended a gazillion openings and plays and concerts over the years. Great times!

But as often happens in life, I got sidetracked or interrupted. And for nine years I had been scratching another itch…writing…and writing for a political blog…and publishing it for four years. And I started to burn out and knew that I wanted to move on with my writing in retirement after the 2020 elections…so started the groundwork for An Intuitive Perspective!

So on March 20, 2020, I published a half dozen pieces, all reprints of my responses to plays presented by the Milwaukee Repertory Theater…pieces that I had written on Facebook as part of my involvement with the Rep’s Social Media Club. And then I was determined to build from there with all of my future visits to galleries, museums, theaters, dance companies, etc…and just as I was hitting the publish buttons over and over, the live arts and culture scene came to a grinding halt because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But I found some silver linings in the daily hovering gray clouds. I attended art history courses at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee virtually. I found any number of new theater groups who were doing virtual readings or presentations. There is a lot of very exciting stuff out there. And I wrote about many of them as my energy and emotions would allow during a very troubling year. I hope you go back and look at a few of them.

And as a hold over from my political blog where we featured music one day a week, just for a break from the seriousness of the site, I brought that feature here as Monday Music. And I started out with some pop songs that I find spiritually magic and then others that I enjoy a great deal. And in 2021, I have mixed in some more serious music…much of it from smaller groups that are new to me or are playing modern composers who are new to me. If you have had a chance to listen to them, I hope you have been entertained.

This anniversary note will be my 117th article on An Intuitive Perspective…granted about 50 of them are Monday Music entries and the first two handfuls, reprints from other sources…but an accomplishment given the state of the arts over the past year and the effects on my spirit.

And for 2021? Well more of the same…sort of. Plus a few original posts that are slowly percolating in the back of my mind…and fingers crossed…many many new responses to live in person arts experiences!!!!

And as always, if you want to reach out to us, leave a comment after a post that has drawn your interest…or if about just something whatever, reach out to:

Thank you for visiting and I look forward to hearing from you!

Ed Heinzelman

APT: Holidames: Tangled In Tinsel

This was absolutely an hour well spent on a dreary December afternoon. While we are all safe at home and missing all of our seasonal favorites, Colleen Madden, Sarah Day, and Tracy Michelle Arnold are determined to make us merry, make us reminisce, and make us appreciate what we do have. And what we do have at hand in ‘Tangled In Tinsel’, is a unique and original and utterly entertaining virtual theater piece. As I have previously written, The American Players Theatre has taken the possibilities in Zoom and made them their own…and one of the pieces here even extols the ‘pleasures’ of Zoom.

But hopefully, I won’t give too much away here, but this is unexpected pleasure. A grab bag of original skits…some traditional…some very modern…and many very timely.

clockwise from top left: Tracy, Sarah, and Colleen!

This screen shot is from the opening segment where our actors lay the groundwork for their presentation…and share some comic and some poignant stories about their past lives in versions of ‘A Christmas Carol’! Oh what fun.

And interspersed we have a number of very effective readings of winter time poetry, ‘The Night Before Christmas’ (my favorite part), and the story of the Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus….and Christmas carols!!

Of course Scrooge makes an appearance engaged in conversation with his nephew, Fred. And you will easily forget that we have two women playing traditional male roles here. You are just mesmerized but the story and the presentation, and that old bias just slips away.

left to right: Scrooge and Fred!

And who woulda thunk, but with all of the time on her hands, Mrs. Cratchit now has a vlog and a very special guest in Mrs. Fezziwig! Hilarity ensues although there is some serious content here…although done in good cheer! And a surprise guest…who I won’t give away…they bring their whole here and the original ‘A Christmas Carol’ back to point.

And oh my goodness, you couldn’t ask for three more talented actors, who obviously enjoy working together…even though far apart…and I was just amazed as they all moved from conversation to drama to comedy to song…and excelled at each phase! Thank you Sarah, Tracy, and Colleen for your talents, spirit, and the willingness to bring this to us all.

As I said above, the APT has truly found Zoom to its liking and I could see this becoming a part and parcel of their future. So although I look forward to traipsing up the hill again next year, I could see spending another future winter day with the APT crew online.

The Holidames: ‘Tangled In Tinsel’ is available on line from now through December 29th. You can order access via the APT website to get a link to the video. Once you activate your ticket you have 24 hours to watch the presentation. Tickets run $24 but there is a discount if you also order the APT’s ‘This Wonderful Life’ at the same time.

In the meantime, here’s the trailer: