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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Though funny and unique, Gallathea leaves audience mystified

Gallathea, a thoroughly thought-provoking play, evokes lots of laughs, a few sighs and a couple of yawns. Although funny and unique, some scenes are dated, and the overall effect of the play is brought down by actors who are inaudible or ineffective.

John Lyly’s Elizabethan-era play has been revamped by the theater and dance department. Directed by Peter Lichtenfels, Gallathea profiles the love, the hunt and the sacrifice of an English countryside village. It opened to a largely empty auditorium last Thursday night.

In an English village, the loveliest virgin is sacrificed every five years, and Tyterus, the father of the most chaste and beautiful daughter, Gallathea, disguises her and sends her off into the forest to save her from death. From the start of the show the conflict within Gallathea is masterfully portrayed by Gia Battista, as she thinks it’s her duty to the country to be the one sacrificed. On the other side of town Melebeus (Will Klundt) hatches the same plan for his daughter Phillida (Venessa E. Archuleta), who, unlike bold and daring Gallathea, is rather mousey, and more willing to be sent away.

Inside the forest, the nymphs of Diana and Venus’s puckish son Cupid have their own chase and conflict as the chaste nymphs try to deflect Cupid’s devilish advances in vain.

Ting Jung Lee as Cupid is truly the breakout star. She plays the male Cupid with artistic bravado that is oddly reminiscent of most Ken Jeong characters. Lee’s performance as the secondary character Haebe, the not so beautiful virgin pawned off in the sacrifice to Neptune, had the auditorium roaring with laughter.

As those scenes unfold, the completely unrelated side story of the adventurous trio of brothers opens up; sadly only Matthew Canty’s Raffe gets stage time. At the end of the play when the three brothers reunite, it is almost confusing as to who the other two are.

When Gallathea and Phillida meet, brought together by Diana (Alison Sundstrom) they fall in love in exactly three scenes. In so little time the actresses bring enough emotional power to the characters that the audience starts to sympathize with the awestruck lovers even if they are both girls pretending to be boys.

The final scene of the show, where the big reveal is imminent, is the best part of the show. The gods bicker like children, the townspeople are dismayed, and the lovers are exposed. The cast plays it up with the outmost of energy and it seems like a fitting conclusion to a play that sheds light on many modern problems in society.

The town, the forest, and all other scenes are all played on the same set, which in the simplest terms is a giant jungle gym with a floating set of stairs put off to the side and some bushes meant to be the forest. The stage has no curtains or side stages, actors have full reign of the stage and sometimes they even climb into the audience. The choreography is done in such a way that at most times it seems oddly appropriate for the characters, who unabashedly act like children, to be happily hanging and sliding down the set.

There is no soundtrack. The set and the actors clomping around on stage provide all background noise. Video projections both frame and shed light onto the play, which is meant to be raw and not hide anything.

Walking into the theater and seeing the stage crew cleaning up the set and actors milling about getting ready for the performance took some mysticism out of watching the play. It felt more like being at the dress rehearsal rather than opening night, even though this was part of the play.

The audience is asked to leave their cell phones on and text and capture the play in any way that they wish, but it didn’t seem like much of the audience understood or made use of the concept.

Overall the play provides a nice way to spend a weekend night, even if at times there are lulls on stage and actors are hard to understand.

The cast of Gallathea will give its final performances tonight through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Wright Hall’s Main Theater. Tickets are $12 to 14 for students.

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

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