Director shakes things up a bit more with Euripides’ ‘Helen’

Though the dust still hasn’t settled after a controversial staging of «The Bacchae» as part of the events organized by Patras as European Capital of Culture 2006, director Yiannis Margaritis is wasting no time and he’s back on tour in Greece and Cyprus with «Helen,» another Euripides drama, and one that stands out for its unusual character. This particularity of the play is the reason why it is seldom performed but it is also the reason why Margaritis, who likes to shake things up, agreed to stage it for the Thessaly Theater. The fact is that most people don’t really know how to describe «Helen.» Even academics and researchers fail to agree on whether it is a tragedy, a comedy or a parody, explains Margaritis. But the director adds, «You don’t really have to look for what it is as long as you just accept that it’s a big question mark.» What it is, in essence, argues the director, is a tragedy of the elusive. The form of the play itself is elusive, he continues. The premise of Euripides’ play is to refute the myth as it was told by Stesichorus and others. But, those who have not seen the play staged by another director should be prepared, because in this production, Helen is not the cursed figure over whom a war is fought, but a Penelope, taken by Hermes to Egypt. The war is fought for no reason. Euripides has also used another version of the legend for added effect: in which Helen (played in the Thessaly Theater production by Filareti Komninou) never went to Troy. Instead, an effigy of hers was taken there, while she remained in Egypt for 10 years. On the outside, the heroine has all the trappings of beauty. But that’s where it ends. «In other tragedies, we see Helen like a blond joke,» says Margaritis, pointing out that his Helen «uses her mind, and very much so.» On the other hand, Menelaus (played by Constantinos Constantopoulos) is summoned to perform one final feat before he can attain her. «He has to play himself dead,» says the director. «That is what I focus on. It resembles one of Hercules’ feats a bit, his descent to Hades. It is unusual in ancient theater to see a hero pretending to be someone else, so when it happens it is very significant.» The stage design for the production is by Dimitris Kakridas; costumes are by Eleni Manolopoulou; the music is by Christos Thivaios and the choreography by Cecile Mikroutsikou.