I did get to the final performance of Helen on Saturday, and it was a full house. The audience was paying close attention, and not reacting much. Which I was told was very different from Friday night, when some local theatre folk inspired a raucous audience that laughed a lot.
Comedy can be so strange that way--sometimes, especially for plays with unusual themes or classical authors, there have to a few "laughers" in the audience to give others permission to laugh. But some nights even that's not enough. People on Saturday were talking about the content of the play at intermission and afterwards--they were really listening. But they also weren't laughing, and that can be dispiriting to the actors, and throw off their timing. This was a particular burden on Darcy Daughtry as Helen, because she carries and connects the play--the other characters (except for the servant) have one scene each, and two of them have clearly comic turns. Though it didn't seem to bother her.
And that's the other half of the dilemma for this play, because while Erik Rhea as Menelaus has some funny business, his is more of a tragic turn. So the raucous laughter of Friday turned a bit inappropriate as a response to his story of the young soldier being strangled inside the Trojan horse... Still, it probably would have been more fun to be there Friday.
One oddity about this play and where it was performed, that I doubt anyone else noticed: Down the hall from Gist Theatre, on the way to the water fountain that barely works (left over from when this building was a grade school, and so it is very low as well), the vending machines and a couple of the restrooms, there are offices. Specifically the offices of the Audio-Visual department, where the veteran Philip Hooker has been joined by Jim Goddess. And there are their quite unusual names, side by side, posted on the door: Hooker, Goddess.
And of course that's one of the major themes of Helen: Goddess--or hooker? Hooker--or goddess? Both, it seems...behind the same door.