Review: “Gallathea,” a hilarious, heartwarming love story in the 60s

Original article published on the CU Independent here.

John Lyly’s “Gallathea” (Courtesy of CU Presents)

While a blizzard raged outside the Loft Theater, a peaceful spring day in the forest unfolded onstage and love was in the air. Two young women, disguised as boys to escape being sacrificed to Neptune, fell madly in love. Meanwhile, the gods and goddesses bickered, and three young men in search of fame and fortune ran into eccentric characters. 

This was the opening night of John Lyly’s “Gallathea,” presented by the University of Colorado Boulder Department of Theater and Dance on Wednesday, Feb. 16. Set in the 1960s, this modern adaptation of the 16th-century romantic comedy offered a hilarious, heartwarming queer love story for Valentine’s Day week. 

Director Kaitlin Nabors decided to transpose “Gallathea” from the English countryside in 1588 to a music festival in the 1960s, an idea with significant potential. Supposedly, Diana and her nymphs are the headlining band at the festival, while her hippie fans cavort about in the forest on various adventures. 

The vibrant 1960s costumes popped onstage. In the opening scene, bedecked with red flowers in her afro, Isabella Jones as Diana wore a striking neon pink and orange dress. Her musical entourage of nymphs (Lou Abecassis, Elinor Zugazagoitia, Brie Musser and Maddy Goldberg), who sang and played guitar, tambourine and fiddle, dressed in matching vintage floral skirts with flowing white tops and flower crowns. 

However, despite the wonderful costumes and brief musical interludes, this setting was not fleshed out. All other aspects of the performance, including set design, lighting effects and stage choreography, seemed nondescript and could be from any era. 

Fortunately, Lyly’s masterful comedic writing holds its own even without the modern twist. To offset the gender dilemma of Gallathea and Phillida’s complicated romance, he crafts a hilarious subplot for comedic relief: three shipwrecked brothers, Rafe, Robin and Dick (Matthias Bolon, Brie Musser and Maddy Goldberg), seek their fortune in the woods, where they encounter three odd men: the Mariner, the Alchemist and the Astronomer. 

Jude Stive, the Alchemist, hammed it up to the max — almost too much. His thunderous waddle, which shook the stage, belonged in Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks. Yet, it certainly never failed to garner an outburst of giggles from the audience. 

Jacob Stock as fabulously ostentatious Cupid (and later the Alchemist’s beleaguered assistant) stole the show and the audience’s hearts. With his gold glittery quiver and long, rainbow-striped shirt as Cupid, he glided across the stage, causing romantic mischief. His poise, broken by carefully placed dramatic outbursts, captured the god’s capricious nature. 

Hoagland and Roth’s portrayal of a blossoming, youthful romance was charming. Though confused and doubtful at first, they soon give in to their attraction, while slowly realizing that the other is, in fact, a “girl.” They both use the clichéd male swagger, which makes the dramatic irony even more blatant. Though the couple are clearly affectionate, their relationship is rather reserved — no touching, hugs or kisses, until a brief embrace at the very end.   

In the final scene, Lyly chose to conclude the gender topic conventionally, of course. After the girls profess their love for each other, Venus is assigned to transform one of them into a boy, so they can be married in the Temple of Neptune. Though this gender switch doesn’t actually take place, the ending suggests a heteronormative solution to queer love, which is rather disappointing but hardly unexpected for the 16th century. Yet, as Hoagland and Roth embrace and gaze adoringly into each other’s eyes, while the entire town looks on supportively, it seems that love has won after all. 

“Gallathea” has two more shows this week, at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 19 and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 20. Tickets can be purchased on the CU Presents website here

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