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'History's first mean girl': Upcoming play retells story of Helen of Troy

mean girls.heic

Photo contributed by Blue Box Theatre.

When Grace Siplon, the co-founder and artistic director of the Blue Box Theatre Company, was reading modern rewrites of classic literature she recognized a pattern — Helen of Troy almost never received sympathy.

According to Greek legend, Helen left her marriage to flee to Troy, contributing to the start of the Trojan War that was chronicled by Homer's "Odyssey."

Determined to retell the classic story from a feminist lens, Blue Box’s "Helen Of" examines why female public figures are often susceptible to scrutiny through a new humorous interpretation of Helen of Troy.

Founded in early 2023, each Blue Box Theatre Company season includes a reimagined production, an original script, an adaptation and an in-house celebration of the company members, according to its website. "Helen Of" is the company's first adaptation.

"Helen Of" is a devised play, meaning all ensemble members co-write, direct and act in the production. The ensemble’s six members crafted a collection of connected vignettes, or mini stories, painting Helen in a new light with recurring themes and characters.

Siplon said her piece in the production draws on ideas of reincarnation from ancient Greek culture and depicts Helen being reborn throughout time.

“So the idea of famous women throughout history being reincarnations of Helen of Troy, and kind of doomed to repeat her similar storyline throughout time," she said. "We have one of Henry VIII’s wives being another Helen and we have Princess Diana being another Helen and these repeated storylines —  the curse of beauty.” 

Ensemble member Grace Derenne, who was a classics major in college, wanted to focus on how the reception of Helen’s story is entirely subjective in her writing for the play.

She said the story of Helen of Troy has been retold over and over throughout history by different artists and writers and now, Blue Box. So, she said, using her expertise to create their new version was the best part of the process.

Derenne said Helen was originally not a character she was drawn to, and she didn't find her desirable in comparison to other Greek women archetypes.

The ensemble began to call her "history's first mean girl" because other interpretations depict her to be heartless and vain, Siplon said in an email. 

Derenne said getting to know Helen better through everyone’s perspectives in the production was a beautiful part of the process.

Ensemble member Rosanne Wagger said history has judged Helen as a beautiful woman and cause of war. Working with Helen's story for this production, Wagger's connection with her story changed. Her vignette discusses the judgement, beauty and aging of women.

“What became so clear to me was that this is so much more for me than about Helen," she said. "For me, this is about judgment. It's about, 'Do we believe everything that we read and hear?' I mean, that's how war gets started. That's how we dislike each other, because we've heard something that isn't necessarily true."

"Helen Of" will be showing from Jan. 12-14 at 7 p.m. at Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews. Tickets can be purchased on the Blue Box Theatre Company's website.

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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