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Friday, October 22, 2021

Gallathea is in a relationship and it’s complicated

The John Lyly Elizabethan classic, Gallathea, is getting revamped here at UC Davis. Opening Nov. 11, the show explores themes of gender roles, father-daughter relationships and fortune-seeking – inspired by source material hundreds of years old but presented here with a few modern twists.

“[Lyly] was doing post-modern work in the time of Shakespeare,” said Gia Battista, senior English major. Battista plays the lead role in Gallathea.

The play is set in a small village in Lincolnshire, England, where every five years the water-god Neptune requires the surrender of the most beautiful and chaste virgin. Two fathers, fearing that their daughters will be sacrificed, dress them up as boys and send them into the woods, where they meet and fall in love.

“[Gallathea] is a really serious role,” Battista said. “She’s going through this heavy thing, questioning her father, questioning her identity but at the same time she’s finding herself while she’s dressed as someone else. But the play is a comedy and you have to bring lightness and fun to her.”

Inspiration came to director and UC Davis theater professor Peter Lichtenfels three years ago, when he first read the play.

“I remember thinking to myself, why has this play never been done?” Lichtenfels said. “When I read it I could really feel it resonating with me and realized that this might be the only chance for most people to see it.”

The highly collaborative rehearsal process started after casting ended earlier this September. The actors and director each played major roles in the construction of the play. For close to three weeks the actors engaged in an improv workshop that allowed the cast to voice ideas of perspectives to blend in a fashion that would be beneficial for the overall outcome of the play.

One of the main issues that Lichtenfels tried to balance is how one tells a story onstage in the modern world.

“I had this epiphany when I saw my son who had a cell phone in one hand, an iPod in his ears while on Facebook, watching TV all at the same time.” Lichtenfels said. “In some sense there were four stories going on at the same time, and one story just isn’t good enough anymore.”

To create the effect of four stories at once, Lichtenfels engages the audience with not only the story on stage but also with video, sound and costumes, each telling separate but connected stories.

For the video component Litchenfels and multi-media artist John Zibell decided to give the actors three cameras and let them shoot from the side of the stage of the ongoing performance which is projected onto two screens on the stage

“Peter had this central idea of not hiding anything.” Zibell said. “For the play we see everything exactly as it is, but from different angles and different perspectives. Sometimes the actors shoot the stage, sometimes they film themselves backstage, and sometimes just the floor.”

The wings of the theater are also visible to the audience.

“This provided a challenge for the actors,” Battista said. “It really made us question how we engage the audience but at the same time not take away from what is going on the stage. Are we in character at that point? Or are we just observers?”

The costume design also brought a new aspect of social roles to the play. Inspired by the London milliner Phillip Treacy and his muse Isabella Blow, costume designer Liz Galindo made 28 hats for the characters.

“We tried to find hats that would match the characters and their personalities,” Galindo said.

Galindo said that her favorite hats were the ones that the three brothers, who are out trying to find fortune, wear. The hats are adorned with two replicas of the ships Nina and Pinta, while the Santa Maria is a boat made from a children’s craft set.

In addition to embracing new media on the stage, Gallathea has ventured onto the web. Lichtenfels had the entire cast and crew form a Facebook group as well as individual Facebook pages for each of the characters. The audience is also encouraged to text, tweet and videotape the play when they come to see it.

“When I did a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in China in 2008, we asked the audience to turn off their cell phones,” Lichtenfels said. “But when the lights went out the audience was illuminated by their own mobile devices. And so for this play, we decided to take that limitation off. If [the audience] wants to talk about the play who are we to stop them?”

The play premieres in the Main Theater in Wright Hall on Thursday, Nov. 11 and runs until Nov. 20. Tickets for students are $12 to 14. To purchase tickets go to mondaviarts.org or call (866) 754-2787.

ANASTASIA ZHURAVLEVA can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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