Ellen McLaughlin's Helen, a new postmodern take on characters of the Trojan War, will launch previews March 19 at The Public Theater, starring Tony Award-winner Donna Murphy in the title role.
Tony Kushner, who saw Ellen McLaughlin star in his Angels in America on Broadway, directs the new work, which focuses on a favorite subject of McLaughlin's: the Battle of Troy. Helen is about the woman whose face launched those thousand ships in the first place. In McLaughlin's world, however, Murphy plays a woman not of Troy, but Cairo, downing protein shakes and having facials."The legendary Helen spends the Trojan War stranded in a hotel room in Egypt, baffled by her odd escape from history," according to The Public's production notes. "Longing to be returned to her own myth, she swats flies, has her nails done and channel surfs, searching for news of the war for which she will be blamed." It's billed as "a comedy of consequence."
An earlier McLaughlin play, Iphigenia and Other Daughters, which played Off Broadway's CSC, was a postmodern look at Agamemnon's wife and his daughters, including the title character, who was sacrificed to the gods so that Agamemnon's forces might sail to and engage rival Troy.
Playwright McLaughlin's other works include Tongue of a Bird (which premiered at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle and was subsequently produced at the Almeida Theater in London, the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles and The Public Theater in 1999), Days and Nights Within, A Narrow Bed and Infinity's House.
* Donna Murphy has been little seen on stage since winning back-to-back Tony Awards for Passion and The King and I in the mid-90s. Many thought her next role would be in the long-planned Broadway revival of Wonderful Town, a show she starred in at Encores! But, in a surprise twist, she has emerged as the title character in Helen by Ellen McLaughlin. Helen opens at The Public's Martinson Theatre April 8.
The Helen cast also includes Johanna Day as Io, Phylicia Rashad as Athena and Denis O'Hare as Menalaus. Mary Louise Wilson was originally scheduled to play the Servant, but owing to a scheduling conflict with the new dates, she's stepped out and The Play About the Baby's Marian Seldes has stepped in.
Day recently originated the role of Claire in Broadway's Proof on Broadway, while Rashad was seen Off Broadway last year in The Roundabout Theatre Company's Blue and O'Hare last performed in Roundabout's Major Barbara at the American Airlines Theatre.
Helen is Kushner's New York City directing debut. Murphy is the subject of Playbill On-Line's Brief Encounter Q&A interview, March 19.
Tickets are $45. The Public Theater's Martinson Hall is at 425 Lafayette Street. For information, call (212) 239-6200 or visit publictheater.org.