Calder Hudson reviews director Ben Anderson’s production of Gallathea, which went up 4th-5th February in the Barron Theatre through the On the Rocks Festival.
In the Director’s Note accompanying Gallathea’s program, Ben Anderson wrote that he “wanted the play to be fun for the actors and audience, engaging with a play they’ve probably never heard of.” Gallathea is certainly an (undeservedly) under-sung play, and although this production suffered a number of small stumbles, it was not without its own brand of flair and charm.
Gallathea—John Lyly’s 16th century comedy—takes the ol’ love-and-gender switcheroo and amps it up a notch. For a production that ran under ninety minutes, the show had a sizable cast of characters—fifteen in total—ranging from the goddess Diana’s virginal entourage to their opposition, chiefly constituted by Cupid and Venus. The victims of the latter faction—most notably the titular Gallathea (Cara Mahoney) and Phyllida (Sarah Pollock)—shared a personal chemistry that benefited the show’s primary romance. Other members of the cast distinguished themselves admirably; Cupid (Andrew Chalmers), in particular, contributed a curious verbal-slapstick that proved a success with the audience.
The show was augmented by an impressive number of technical assets, from its simple but elegant set to its dazzling array of lighting effects. Enabling a cast of fifteen actors to share an hour and fifteen minutes without chaos or confusion—on the part of the cast or audience—was an extraordinary organizational achievement, as was the surplus of personality granted to the show by its costumes, lighting, and setting. For this success, Technical Officer Colleen Layton deserves great congratulation.
However, for all of its visual panache, Gallathea was beset by a number of bumps and more than a smattering of stammering. The latter proved a problem, as it evidenced some lack of familiarity with the script. This is, by itself, a largely forgivable issue; during On the Rocks actors juggle a sizeable amount of work (often across multiple shows) in a very short amount of time, so a few trips-of-the-tongue should certainly be permissible. What made the slips more problematic, however, was the lack of energy with which the show dragged past them. Unfortunately, Gallathea’s energy felt consistently closer to 85% than to 100%. To be sure, the rigorous On the Rocks schedule is, again, partly responsible here, but chinks in Gallathea’s armour became much bigger vulnerabilities as a result of the show’s scarce fuel supply. Additionally, some of the blocking felt unjustified and unmotivated, giving the play an undeviating, standardized progression that didn’t match the criss-crossing shenanigans of its characters.
That said, Anderson definitely succeeded in his aims for the show. His representation of “what a modern staging of the play might look like” translated well with good use of his venue and resources. Anderson fleshed out the script’s surplus of wit well; his modern presentation of its content and look did not diminish the play’s inherent personality. It was a little rough around the edges, but minor blemishes could not truly disparage or endanger the distinct and laudable effort behind Gallathea.
Photo credit: Katie Brennan