Sunday, December 22, 2013

Director Kevin Gates Discusses John Lyly's Gallathea, Poor Shadows of Elysium, January 3 - 19, 2014

On the theatre company's blog Kevin Gates discusses the upcoming second production of Austin's Poor Shadows of Elysium: Gallathea by John Lyly (ca. 1588), to be presented January 3 - 19 at the black box theatre of Trinity Street Players, 4th floor, First Baptist Church, 901 Trinity Street, Austin.

Tickets are $10, available in advance via

brown paper tickets



Director Kevin Gates talks about Gallathea

Torquato Tasso is best known for his poetry and his insanity. He died only a few days before he was to be crowned “king of the poets” by the Pope. His poetry is largely forgotten in the English-speaking world, but his legacy still lives in our collective consciousness. In 1573, Tasso’s play, Aminta, was performed before the Duke of Ferrara. This pastoral play is extremely difficult to stage effectively, because much of the dialogue describes action that occurred offstage. The play features nymphs and satyrs, Cupid and Venus. If I were to try to describe what the play is about in one sentence, it would be something along the lines of, “What is the true nature of love?”

Gallathea John Lyly Poor Shadows of Elysium Austin TX
Rachel Steed-Redig, Kristin Hall (photo: Bridget Farias)

In 1588, John Lyly’s play, Gallathea, was performed before Queen Elizabeth I by the Children of Paul’s. Gallathea features nymphs, Cupid, and Venus, and asks the same question. The action of the two plays are different, and Gallathea is much more English in its approach, since it features a comic subplot, but the theme, setting, and characters of the two plays are very similar.

I decided to direct Gallathea for Poor Shadows primarily because it was the opposite of our last production, Richard II, in many ways (it’s a comedy, in verse, with many substantial female roles). But possibly the most rewarding thing for me about digging into this text has been discovering the echoes of this play in later works by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Scholars have compared parts of the play to The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and As You Like It. Parts of this play also call to my mind Romeo and Juliet (the fathers remind me of Capulet and Montague), Love’s Labour’s Lost (lovers hiding and listening to another confess their love in a soliloquy), and Twelfth Night (Toby and Andrew discussing which signs of the zodiac rule which parts of the body). And obviously, the Alchemist and his boy, and their lists of spirits and bodies, call to mind Jonson’s play on the subject.

At first blush, Gallathea is very light and not very deep, but there’s one aspect of the play that I think defies that impression. (SPOILER ALERT) To escape the curse of Neptune, two young virgins are disguised by their fathers as boys. The two girls meet in the woods and, each thinking the other to be a boy, fall in love. In the final scene, when they discover they’re both girls, the reaction of the bystanders is predictable. But the reactions of the two girls are surprising. Diana tells them they must “leave these fond affections,” and Gallathea replies, “I will never love any but Phillida.” Phillida agrees. “Nor I any but Gallathea.” Their love is based on something deeper than gender. Although the social order might not approve (Venus says she’ll change one of them into a boy), neither of the girls cares, as long as they can be together. It’s the viewpoint of the two girls that I find so interesting in this play, and I’ve tried to enhance the focus on that element in our show.

The Early Modern English drama is my area of interest, so, of course, I find this play really interesting for many reasons. But I think our show will still be very entertaining for regular, non-nerdy people, too.

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