“HELEN” : A Modern Reality Check on an Ancient Myth

To fully appreciate the intellectual shift from the ancient story of Helen of Troy to the science-fiction adaptation, Helen, as written by Ellen McLaughlin and performed by the superb ensemble at Theatre of Yugen, we have to understand Helen as conqueror’s prize quite apart from her as part-replicant and part-eidolon.

The intensity of this one hour/45-minute play had the audience riveted, mainly because its depth and difference between the intellectual heft of Euripides’ Helen and McLaughlin’s Helen requires rapt attention to grasp the genius of the modern multi-cultural adaptation of the character identifications.

As masterfully directed by Shannon R. Davis, with Associate Director, LeeAnn Dowd, the excellent performances include the entire cast, as professionally required by each role.

Helen’s role, as the abducted and fragile Queen/wife of Menelaus, was beautifully, delicately (and courageously) performed by Adrian Deane – her dignity showed even as she intently swatted at the incessant buzzing of flies in her room, as conjured in her mind.

Menelaus, as performed by Steven Flores, was an enigmatic figure, yet with a powerful presence physically and as portrayed through Helen’s consciousness. Stefani Potter, who tells Helen the “gods lost respect for humans” who came up with the “gods” to “blame them for everything,” was outstanding in her role of Athena.

Helen’s ever-present Servant was a striking and empathetic character both in her companionship and story-telling – a calm, sensitive  nature with a steady portrayal by Leticia Duarte.

The Servant does Helen’s hair.

For comic relief – the adorable (and beautiful) Greek cow, as transformed from an Asian human refugee – was made delightfully real by Helen Wu.

Io (left) and Helen in her Egyptian hotel room.

Plaudits go to the beautifully artistic costuming by Designer Ariel Quenell-Silverstein. She captured the very essence of each character.

The intimate set was artfully and carefully designed by Randy Wong-Westbrooke – so close to the audience that if there had been a flaw, it would not have been missed. Additionally, our attention was made easier by the intimacy of the floor-level set within feet of the audience. Melissa Ramirez is, indeed, a Property Master, and the excellent Stage Management by McKenna Moses was obviously given a great deal of attention to detail.  Ella Cooley’s Sound Design was expertly inserted, and the lighting by Lighting Designer Miranda Waldron was perfectly appointed and adjusted according to the action in the script and on stage.

The wisdom of the Staff at Theatre of Yugen to select Helen (and in effect also collaborate with the Production Team) was clearly in evidence. The Staff includes Artistic Director Nick Ishimaru (with Director and Artistic Associate Shannon R. Davis), Technical Director, Mel Ramirez, Donor Coordinator Roy Eikleberry, and Public Relations/Marketing expert, Karin Conn.

By Elle Alexa Simon with Flora Lynn Isaacson, Critic with the San Francisco Bay Area Critics Circle

Helen began at Theatre of Yugen March 29 and will end April 27, 2019. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, as well as Sundays at 1:30pm. Tickets can be purchased before curtain at the door or online at http://www.theatreofyugen.org The address is 2840 Mariposa Street, San Francisco, and parking is at a premium.  Allow for shocking modern language and a small gender-neutral lavatory.