The cheeky premise of playwright Ellen McLaughlin’s “Helen” is that this Greek beauty is alive and well and secretly living in Egypt during the Trojan War, waiting to be rescued by her husband the King from an unbearable existence of ennui and bad cable-television programming within her Four Seasons-like hotel room. After ninety-five languorous minutes spent with this dense, cerebral and intermission-less affair, in a plodding and visually undistinguished production by director Andrea J. Dymond for Evanston’s Next Theatre Company, the audience—like Helen—might also be hoping for someone to rescue them. To be fair, it’s impossible to deny the thought-provoking ideas on gender inequality and female beauty with which the play brims, oftentimes gorgeously expressed via the playwright’s trademark poetic dialogue and adeptness for memorable imagery. But if the hallmark of this purposely anachronistic, semi-modern take on the Euripidean original is that Helen is no shallow Barbie doll, but instead a knowing woman coming to terms with her beauty as both power and prison, it’s an idea that is more discussed than it is ever dramatized. Even after the playwright ushers onto the stage two other powerful mythological creatures in sharp ironic counterpoint to Helen (Io and Athena), the play still relies on its well-written yet long-winded monologues to explore its ideas, making the dramatic experience the equivalent of sitting through a clever college lecture on the classics. In addition, the production’s pedestrian blocking and perfunctory lighting do not help an evening heavy on the cerebral yet light on the visceral. As timeless myth, she may have been “the face that launched a thousand ships” but as a play, “Helen” can do little more than provoke a thousand yawns. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Next Theatre, Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes Street, Evanston, (847)475-1875. Thu 7:30pm/Fri-Sat 8pm/Sun 2pm. $20-$35. Through Oct 15.