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About MJ Kaufman's GALATEA | Julie Crawford

Red Bull's online benefit reading of MJ Kaufman's play GALATEA, presented in collaboration with WP THEATER, will premiere LIVE at 7:30 PM EST on Monday, March 22. A recording of the livestream will be available until 7:00 PM EDT on Friday, March 26 – then it disappears. GET DETAILS

​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.


Columbia University

On Thursday, March 25, join an interactive discussion of the Gallathea and MJ Kaufman's Galatea with director Emma Rosa Went, playwright MJ Kaufman, scholars Julie Crawford and Lauren Robertson , and members of the companies. Register Now


JULIE CRAWFORD works on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English literature and culture. She has written on Shakespeare, John Fletcher, Margaret Cavendish, the Sidneys, Anne Clifford, Margaret Hoby, and Mary Wroth, as well as on post-Reformation religious culture, the history of reading, and the history of sexuality. Her articles have appeared in Studies in English Literature, English Literary History, Renaissance Drama, PMLA, Early Modern Culture, Huntington Library Quarterly, The Blackwell Companion to Shakespeare, The Oxford Companion to Popular Print Culture, The History of British Women’s Writing, 1500-1610, and in a wide range of edited collections. Her book, Marvelous Protestantism: Monstrous Births in Post-Reformation England, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2005, and her new book, Mediatrix: Women, Politics, and Literary Production in Early Modern England, was published by Oxford UP in 2014. She is currently completing a book entitled Margaret Cavendish's Political Career. B.A. McGill University (1990); Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania (1999).

For complete details about Red Bull Theater's livestreamed benefit reading, presented in collaboration with WP Theater on Monday, March 22, VISIT HERE.


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