Griffin Cobb, Erica McClure, Fallon Crowley, Izzy Keel, & Tory Parker in Gallathea: A Forest Fantasy. Photo: Allie Fireel

Galathea: A Forest Fantasy

By John Lyly
Adapted & directed by Allie Fireel

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2024 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

The gods are messing with the lives of mortals. Human sacrifices are commonplace. Women are dressing as boys. John Lyly’s 1588 play seems giddily familiar; a mash-up of the Greeks and Shakespeare. A lot is made of his influence on the Bard of Avon, who stole most of his plots from earlier works by others, and you can see it here plain enough, but Lyly is missing the heightened language and deliberate poetry. Gallathea never sings except when characters join in song, in Allie Fireel’s production in goofy white nerd rap and plaintive renditions of 1980s pop hits.

The plot?  Every five years a small village in Lincolnshire must sacrifice a virgin to Neptune, god of the seas (Erica McClure), or he will drown them all. This demand is payment for destroying Neptune’s temples many years ago. The shepherd Tytyrus (Fallon Crowley) is certain his daughter Gallathea (Jordan Aiken) will be chosen. So he dresses her as a boy and exiles her into the forest until after the sacrifice. Melibeus (Jeremy Garcia) does the same with his daughter, Philida (Shelby Durbin). If you are surprised when the two fall in love, you haven’t been to the theatre in the last 400 years.

The language is Elizabethan but plainer and more straightforward than Shakespeare’s, and the humor and characterization are looser and more freewheeling. I’m not sure how much Fireel altered the text in their adaptation, but the play has a reputation problematic enough to keep it from being produced very often. The Wikipedia entry points to college and queer-focused theatres giving it a go but precious few mainstream companies. It’s a total romp, full of opportunities for verbal and physical comedy that this ensemble attacks with high energy and sharp delivery. 

Cross-dressing in theatre is too common to be responsible for such avoidance but Gallathea and Philida recognize each other as women earlier than in other Elizabethan plays, embracing their queerness. If outing the thinly veiled Elizabethan pretense isn’t enough the notion of changing gender is raised as being a ready tool in the hands of the gods. It may have been written to restore heteronormative expectations, but in the land of three witches shakespeare, it is at least open to interpretation as a transnormative action.

There is a feud between gods, as Neptune and Diana (Annie Mayer) mix it up with Cupid (Izzy Keel), and a roundelay of mistaken and confused encounters in the forest is the result. (A Midsummer Night’s Dream…anybody?) Lyly’s writing is equally funny yet more grounded, and if the clowns in Gallathea are not quite as memorable, it is no fault of the actors. As Rafe, Tory Parker has never been funnier, giving every bit of her dialogue a delicious, wry delivery.

I also enjoyed Joy Beth DeWitt-Riley’s Larissa, a childish nymph with a divine singing voice. Her duets with Griffin Cobb on songs such as “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”, were an anachronistic pleasure. Katherine Krutsick and Rayanne Houghlin Walker are surprisingly well realized as Telusa and Eurota, respectively, and Fallon Crowley is finding their greater confidence as an actor and relishing the comedy, sporting one of the production’s many outrageously false beards and wigs as Tityrus, Philida’s father.

Jordan Aiken is decidedly a clumsy tomboy in the titular role, finding her footing after a shaky start, growing more as she interacts with Shelby Durham’s more girly Philida. Together they form a most charming pair. Annie Mayer is a highly confident and devious Diana, doing double duty as the choreographer to pleasing effect. 

In a striking, crowd-pleasing turn, Izzy Keel fashions an engagingly homely Cupid; a mischievous imp in sharp contrast to the traditionally innocent cherub, without ever succumbing to camp or malice.  

I’ve been watching Erica McClure onstage for many years, and she has always been a skilled and educated professional, yet of late there is both a greater authority in her work and a more relaxed aspect in her playing. And play is the right word. There is a renewed joy and a belief in herself as a potent, and in this instance, jarringly carnal presence. She is playing Neptune, after all. Then again, the gods have always been portrayed as preternaturally beautiful and sexual beings. 

The entire production is framed as a summer camp production by kids attending Camp Upon Avon in 1987 (hence the period songs). It’s a cute idea, but my chief critique of Fireel’s otherwise admirable and enjoyable production is that this conceit gives little value to Gallathea’s story. Even though almost the entire cast was costumed in Camp Upon Avon t-shirts, I lost sight of the idea as the story unfolded, entirely caught up in the relationship between humans and immortals and the chase through trees. 

Once again three witches shakespeare has put the lush and green environs of The Louisville Nature Center to good purpose, and the treehouse that now lives there is perfect for theatre. Take your best allergy meds, and bring your favorite shades and a comfy camp chair. You only have one weekend to see Gallathea: A Forest Fantasy.

Featuring Jordan Aiken, Griffin Cobb, Fallon Crowley, Joy Beth DeWitt-Riley, Shelby Durbin, Jeremy Garcia, Michael Guarnieri, Izzy Keel, Katherine Krutsick, Annie Mayer, Erica McClure, Tory Parker, Mason Scott, & Rayanne Houghlin Walker 

Gallathea: A Forest Fantasy

May 9 – 12 @ 6:30 pm

three witches shakespeare
Louisville Nature Center
3745 Illinois Avenue
Louisville, KY 40213

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM /, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music, and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for