For over a year I’ve had the pleasure of working as a dramaturge with Nick Salamone, the playwright of this year’s Villa outdoor theater production of Euripides’ Helen. During rehearsals this summer I got together with Nick and director Jon Lawrence Rivera of Playwrights’ Arena to talk about how they approached developing a Los Angeles-based Hollywood version of Euripides’ rarely performed “non-tragedy.” In the video below, we reflect on the process and on Euripides’ complex character.
The magical setting of the Getty Villa’s outdoor theater and the powerful imagery of legendary Hollywood icons combine to tell the melodramatic story of the virtuous Helen. This Helen has been whisked to the island of Pharos by Hermes and replaced at the Trojan War by an identical phantom fashioned by a rancorous Hera. Seventeen years later and at the end of her wits, Helen is reunited with her husband Menelaos in an ancient musical escape narrative. First presented in the Theater of Dionysos in Athens in 412 B.C., Euripides’ play receives a thoroughly original adaptation that is still faithful to the classical text, and reveals for a new audience the “shockingly contemporary” attitudes of Euripides.
Helen plays tonight, tomorrow, and next weekend; the final performance is Saturday, September 29.
I don’t mean to belittle the hard work that surely took place in the mounting of this play, but to advertise it as “Euripides’ Helen” is too much of a stretch, if not false advertising. In my humble opinion, the text and tone wander too far away from the original to be called an “adaptation,” way too far. I was expecting a modern adaptation of a Greek play, as advertised, but if we had known we were in for such a lightweight musical farce we would have dedicated our evening to something with more substance. After all, we don’t drive out to Malibu and sit outside on a backless concrete bench to experience the same fluffy entertainment one can see anywhere else. Some of your other presentations have been well worth it, such as Elektra, with Pamela Reed and Olympia Dukakis. Now that was a modern adaptation of a Greek play, what you presented tonight was not.