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Presented in collaboration with WP THEATER
Featuring Ty Defoe, Esco Jouléy, Jo Lampert, Pooya Mohseni, Aneesh Shesh, Futaba Shioda, and TL Thompson
Galatea is a trans love story set against the backdrop of a climate crisis. Loosely based on John Lyly’s 1585 play, Galatea tells the story of two young people who escape a virgin sacrifice by dressing up as boys and running away to the woods where they meet and fall in love.
Presented in collaboration with WP THEATER, Galatea is written by WP Playwrights Lab Alum MJ Kaufman (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, How to Live on Earth), and directed by Will Davis (India Pale Ale, Men on Boats). The cast includes Grammy Award-winner Ty Defoe, Esco Jouléy (High Maintenance), Jo Lampert (Hundred Days, Joan of Arc), Aneesh Sheth (Netflix’s Jessica Jones), Futaba Shioda (Rent 20th Anniversary tour), and TL Thompson (Is This a Room) and more.
BULL SESSION | GALLETHEA / GALATEA
Thursday, March 25, 2021
An interactive discussion of the plays and their themes with director Emma Rosa Went, playwright MJ Kaufman, scholars Julie Crawford and Lauren Robertson , and members of the companies.
Red Bull Theater wishes to express its gratitude to the Performers’ Unions: ACTORS’ EQUITY ASSOCIATION, AMERICAN GUILD OF MUSICAL ARTISTS, AMERICAN GUILD OF VARIETY ARTISTS, and SAG-AFTRA through Theatre Authority, Inc. for their cooperation in permitting the Artists to appear in this program.
ABOUT THE PLAY
MJ Kaufman’s Galatea or Whatever You Be, a genderqueer translation of an already pretty queer Elizabethan play by John Lyly, is set in an unnamed village terrorized by the god Neptune – the “one with the big pitchfork-like thing” – who demands the sacrifice of the villagers’ most beautiful virgin every five years in order to save the village from destruction. (“I AM THE OCEAN,” Neptune crows, “I SWALLOW EVERYTHING”). In order to save their daughters Galatea and Phyllida from death, the villagers Melebeus and Titerys crossdress them as boys and send them off into the woods. There, the “girlboys” attract the unwanted attention of Diana’s nymphs, who, while normally devoted to “lesbian separatist solidarity,” are temporarily heterosexualized by Cupid’s arrows, and fall madly in love with one another. (As one of Kaufman’s stage directions tells us, you’ll find “a queer club” if you “go far enough into the woods”). In Lyly’s play, cross-dressing produces a kind of inevitable homosexuality based in Renaissance ideas about likeness being at the center of positive ideas about union. As Phyllida tells herself early in Lyly’s play, “Art thou no sooner in the habit of a boy but thou must be enamored of a boy?” And while they lose no time in rather suggestively “making much of one another,” they are nonetheless disturbed by their “dissembling” in “short coats” – a view Kaufman relates to contemporary transphobia (let’s not fall into trap of thinking that “Trans people practiced deceit”) – and generally concur that, despite their love for one another, they are “practicing impossibilities.” In Kaufman’s version, Galatea and Phyllida’s attraction to one another is based in their shared views on and experience of non-normative sexuality and gender (“being in-between gender’s a real safety gamble”); social justice critique (“non-consensual virgin sacrifices”); and frank sexual desire that fully embraces gender nonconformity. “I don’t know what you are,” each says to the other, “But I want whatever you are.” Lyly’s play concludes, famously, with the promise of a sex change that will allow the girls to marry one another. (They won’t learn who will be transformed into a man until the wedding). Yet while their fathers, who have been flirting pretty heavily themselves, adjust to Venus’s plan for their daughters in Kaufman’s version (“Even in this magical queer landscape,” Diana points out, the families of transpeople take time to get on board with their transition), Galatea and Phyllida have other plans, and it doesn’t include one of them becoming what Venus calls a “REAL man.” In the newly kinder and gentler village culture, now freed, thanks to the work of Diana and Venus, from Neptune’s demands, when everyone else arrives at the village church, Phyllida and Galatea “stand at the edge of the woods,” the place, since Vergil’s Eclogues, of queer desire. While Lyly’s play never stages the transition and thus marriage that Venus promises, Kaufman’s version concludes by questioning what a happy ending might be altogether – not, as most theater critics claim is true of all comedies, marriage, but something much better.
–Julie Crawford | Columbia Univerity
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
MJ KAUFMAN is a playwright and television writer from Portland, OR. Their plays include: Whisper’s Gone (Theatre Exile), Double Atlas (workshop at Playwrights Realm), Masculinity Max (Public Theater Studio production, Pride Plays ’20 reading), Sensitive Guys (InterAct Theater and numerous theaters and schools around the country) and A Walrus in the Body of a Crocodile (Clubbed Thumb). Their work has also been produced and developed at WP Theater, Huntington Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, the New Museum, NAATCO, Playwrights Realm, Colt Coeur, Yale School of Drama and the Lark Play Development Center, as well as in Russian in Moscow and in Australia.
MJ received the 2017 Helen Merrill Emerging Writers Award, 2013 ASCAP Cole Porter Prize in Playwriting, the 2013 Global Age Project Prize, and the 2010 Jane Chambers Prize in Feminist Theatre. MJ has held residencies at the MacDowell Colony and SPACE on Ryder Farm and is currently a resident playwright at New Dramatists. MJ has been a member of the Public Theater’s Emerging Writers’ Group, WP Theater Lab, a core playwright at InterAct Theatre and a playwriting fellow at the Huntington Theater.
MJ curated the 2016 and 2017 seasons of Trans Theater Fest at The Brick and, along with Kit Yan, founded Trans Lab Fellowship, a program to support emerging transgender theater artists. They have worked as a writer for two seasons for Netflix. Since the COVID19 pandemic began, MJ has written zoom plays for New Dramatists and Play at Home, adapted their play Sensitive Guys for the internet and worked on an audio piece for New Dramatists Plays for the Ear initiative. An alum of Wesleyan University and Yale School of Drama.