By Larry Taylor/Garden Grove Journal
Every September the Getty Villa in Malibu produces a classic Greek drama as part of its emphasis on Greek-Roman culture. This year, “Helen,” by Euripides opened last week.
Written in 2412 BC, this seldom-performed play, dealing with the fall of Troy is usually ignored in favor of Euripides’ greater tragedy, “The Trojan Women,” which Getty presented last year.
In this version Helen, who is usually presented as the cause of the Trojan war after being kidnapped from her Greek husband, Meneleus, by Trojan hero Paris, has a double. The resulting calamitous war in which Greece destroyed Troy, has long been the stuff of myth and history.
This telling, however, has Helen spirited away by the gods to an Egyptian island and replaced by a surrogate. So, it wasn’t real the Helen who caused the war.
When Meneleus, on his way back to Greece after the war is shipwrecked, he lands on the island where Helen is held. He is initially baffled by the duplicate Helen, but the gods intervene and permit his reunion. The pair escape from the Egyptian king who would marry Helen, himself.
In this interpretation, the play is broadly adapted by Nick Salamone, who attempts to turn it into a comedy, but it really doesn’t work. He resets the action into the Thirties in a world of movie kings and kings. These allusions to 20th Century culture become corny and tiresome. It may have been better to stick with the original, going with Euripides’ cynical view of war.
Performed by the Playwright’s Arena theater and directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera, Helen becomes a faded movie star (well-played by Rachel Sorsa, who sings as well as emotes). The Greek chorus is made up of a Marilyn Monroe-type and two pop divas (Melody Butui, Arsene DeLay and Jayme Lake, who resemble fugitives from “Entertainment Tonight”).
There are some good laugh lines but few and far between. Many are delivered by Holden Caulfield as Menelaous, who does a fine job with what he is given.
What does impress is the statue in the Getty Atrium which is visible to the audience in the area where actors make their entrances – it is Lion Attacking a Horse, from Greece, circa 325–300 B.C.
On loan from Rome, the masterpiece vividly shows a lion bringing down a desperately fighting horse. It is said to be one of the most storied works of art to survive from antiquity.
Placed as it is in the amphitheater area, it illustrates, symbolically, that the lion’s reason to kill is survival. Man’s butchery of his fellow man, by contrast, is for glory and revenge, trivial in comparison.
“Helen” plays through Sept. 29. The Getty Villa is located just off Pacific Coast Highway at 1200 Getty Center Drive; turn off just north of Sunset Boulevard. Phone (310) 440-7300; www.getty.edu Playgoers should plan on getting there before the play’s 8 p.m. start. It’s a chance to look at the many antiquities on display in this replica of a Roman villa.