Thought-Provoking Helen Delights Audiences at Theatre of Yugen

“Helen,” the latest offering by Theatre of Yugen as a part of its 40th season, is something fresh, different and yet familiar.

The play, written by Ellen McLaughlin, has its historical roots in the Euripides play of the same name, first performed around 412 B.C.

This rewrite/reimagining offers the 2019 audience a denser, well-realized version of Euripides’ old chestnut of a myth-busting drama.

No, in this retelling, Helen did not run off to Troy with Paris, but is stuck in Egypt, just as in the Euripides version.

The major difference is the modern setting and the broad reach of the story into the soul of Helen as she deals with her enduring fame, actually attributable to the ghostly Helen created by

The Servant does Helen’s hair.

the gods.

At the same time, she feels caught in an information vacuum, unsure the seemingly endless war is actually over and unable to find out any substantive news on TV. So her frustration mounts as her 17-year captivity in an Egyptian hotel room continues.

These emotions are skillfully and convincingly portrayed by Adrian Deane as Helen, who swats annoying flies while attempting to find out what’s actually occurring in the real world.

She finally receives two visitors with some news ~~ Io (Helen Wu), somewhat cute and clueless , followed by Athena (Stefani Potter) as a slam-bam forceful  goddess.

The pair are contrasting types of women, and the deep differences make for some lively and eventful dialogue. Io is more awestruck by Helen, while Athena is quite the opposite, tearing away the exploits of the imaginary image of Helen that has been created by the gods. Io is much more docile, perhaps because the gods earlier once made her a cow.

There is a Servant (Leticia Duarte) , who keeps things tied together for the audience, sort of a Greek chorus of one. She invests this key role with steady sense of attention to detail that reminds physically and emotionally of Yalitza Aparicio’s servant role in “Roma.”

The return of Helen’s husband Menelaus brings things to a climax.

As portrayed by Steven Flores, Menelaus is a tired and confused veteran who only wants to put the very long war behind him. The real Helen, not the legendary Helen, is of little help in that regard.

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

As the play moves toward its conclusion, Helen may at least have a better understanding of her place in the world. The audience certainly has a greater appreciation of the larger questions raised, like “What does it mean to be a woman?”

As well as the actors mesh in this clever and demanding play, the production team also deserves much praise for doing a lot in a small theater space.

Sound designer Ella Cooley skillfully uses audio to make the small room seem much bigger, while set designer Randy Wong-Westbrooke creates an exquisite hotel room with a functional vanity and lighting designer Miranda Wadron has everything properly lit, all making for a visually appealing stage.

Director Shannon R. Davis ensures a a proper pace and doesn’t let the many, often times elaborate, vocabulary bog the proceedings down.

If you’re looking for a thoughtful reworking of a Greek classic play that’s chock-full of relevant questions in 2019, then “Helen” is a very smart choice.

Performances Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. and April 20 and 27 at 1:30 p.m. Final day April 27. Taking place at NohSpace – 2840 Mariposa St. in San Francisco.

— George Powell – ForAllEvents