Helen at Vintage Theatre Collective | Theater review
Playwright Ellen McLaughlin updates Euripides’s take on the famous face.
Unmoored from time but confined to a swanky hotel room, Helen of Troy (Collins) serves as an archetype of female beauty and burden in McLaughlin’s 2002 work. The playwright takes her cue from a variant of the Trojan War story picked up by Herodotus and Euripides: In this version, Helen didn’t run off with Paris at all; instead, she was spirited away to Egypt by the gods, who replaced her with a phantom doppelganger to spark a war for their amusement. McLaughlin puts her up in a penthouse suite where she flips channels looking in vain for news of the war and resentfully, resignedly waits for her husband, Menelaus, to come for her.
Ristow’s cast is young—anachronisms be damned, there’s no way Collins’s fresh-faced Helen has been cooped up, as she says, for 17 years—but the actors have a firm grasp on McLaughlin’s poetic revisionism. In visits with Io (Mintz in jocular cow ears), Athena (Shain in sleek warrior-goddess black) and a storytelling servant (an imposing Anderson), Helen works through her own story’s relation to modern gender dynamics and the ways we hamper ourselves by our need for narrative. One wishes McLaughlin would delve more deeply into the ideas she raises; Ristow’s solid production is nonetheless thoroughly engaging.