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Helen.

A new play at La Mama by SuperGeographics based on the Greek myths with top-notch acting, excellent direction, and atmospheric and evocative lighting.

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Lanxing Fu, Grace Bernardo and Melissa Coleman-Reed in a scene from Caitlin George’s “Helen.” at La MaMa (Photo credit: Maria Baranova)

[avatar user=”Brett Singer” size=”96″ align=”left”] Brett Singer, Critic[/avatar]

Helen. is a new play by Caitlin George based on Greek myths that is being given a terrific production at La MaMa by SuperGeographics in association with La MaMa and the storied company En Garde Arts. The acting is top-notch, the direction excellent, and the lighting (by Jackie Fox and Connor Sale) is atmospheric and evocative.

Helen. starts promisingly enough with the sinewy Constance Strickland as Eris, acting as a kind of MC/Greek chorus, who announces she is “a god. Goddess, if that makes you more comfortable.” Then we are introduced to the sisters, three of them (paging Chekhov): Timandra (a regal Melissa Coleman-Reed), Klaitemestra (Grace Bernardo), and the titular Helen (Lanxing Fu). They are experiencing domestic… well, not quite bliss, because Helen will soon leave. The question that is never answered is why. It’s kind of a Greek Where’d You Go, Bernadette. As Helen, Fu gives a solid performance, but George’s script never tells us why she left, just that she’s “unhappy” and wants an “adventure”. There’s an ongoing joke that the men think she was taken; they can’t believe that she just took off.

Constance Strickland, Jonathan Taikina Taylor and Grace Bernardo in a scene from Caitlin George’s “Helen.” at La MaMa (Photo credit: Maria Baranova)

Director Violeta Picayo keeps things moving and has fun with her actors; no movement director is credited but the physicality of everyone is impressive, particularly Jonathan Taikina Taylor as Agamemnon/Paris/Akhilles, and Jackie Rivera as Menelaus/Hektor/Hekuba; they are particularly hilarious as Hektor, using their short frame to excellent effect.

The play is mostly a poetic tapestry of language, which sometimes makes it hard to follow the story. There are some strong moments, such as when Klaitemestra’s daughter is sacrificed by Agamemnon and Menelaus; Bernardo does an excellent job showing the loss of a child.

Jackie Rivera and Lanxing Fu in a scene from Caitlin George’s “Helen.” at La MaMa (Photo credit: Maria Baranova)

The play moves along well enough until Eris starts listing slang terms for a woman’s private parts – a literal vagina monologue. While that isn’t a problem per se, it is the moment that the play starts making less sense; things literally become darker and any story momentum disappears.

The costumes (which range from creative togas to clever battle garb to very chaste underwear) are by James Schuette; he also handled the nicely minimalist set. The producers are right to champion new work and have given this one a first-rate production. Audiences should root for their continued success.

Helen. (through October 29, 2023)

SuperGeographics in association with La MaMa and En Garde Arts

Downstairs Theatre at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, 66 East 4th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.lamama.org/shows/helen-2023

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission

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About Brett Singer (8 Articles)
Brett Singer was the founder of the theatrical PR firm Brett Singer & Associates, where he represented shows featuring artists like Alan Cumming, Andre De Shields, Criss Angel, John Rubinstein, Tovah Feldshuh and Estelle Parsons. As a writer, Brett’s work has appeared in Time Out Kids, the AV Club, the Daily Beast, AOL and Forbes Woman. 

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