While showing some signs of its rapid development, Evdokimos Tsolakidis’ production of Helen at UCSB nevertheless shed valuable new light on the immense contribution of Euripides to the theatrical tradition. With an opening that featured a chorus chanting some very up to date obscenities, multiple video projections including a facetime conference call, and a substantial karaoke number for Helen and Menelaus tucked in as well, this Helen could never be mistaken for the kind of antiquarian production used to entertain tourists in Greece or to fulfill humanities grants in the United States. Instead director Tsolakidis gave us two things—the prolific vitality of his theatrical imagination and the sense that, as he put it, “you need pain to create art.”
As Helen, Meghan Joy Wraa anchored the production, handling expository as well as dramatic duties in a move typical of Euripides’ unorthodox approach to tragedy. Tyler X. Koontz gave a physical performance of Menelaus as something of a buffoon, but still capable of tenderness and courtesy. Fady Antoun’s over the top Theoclymenus made the barbarism implied by the script palpable, and Julie Aguilar delivered the role of the Messenger with some real bite. Thanks to UCSB and to Tsolakidis for washing our hair of the stereotypical staging too often assumed to be the only way to bring Ancient Greek tragedy to life.