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Nothing of Origins

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

One reason myths and legends endure, even after thousands of years, is that they contain some kernel of truth that remains relevant generation after generation. Though the stories surrounding the Trojan War have already received countless interpretations and reimaginings, Studio 42 and One Year Lease have taken their crack at it in the stylish Nothing of Origins, now at the Urban Stages space.

Eight women in the myths about the Trojan War are the ostensible subjects of the play, which has been directed by Kate Marks, but Nothing of Origins is more concerned with examining the depth of behavior and perception of women in all walks of life, whether as mother, daughter, wife, or any of a host of other designations. The show's performers and Laura Roemer have taken these familiar myths, turned them inside out, and given them a new perspective so that the reasons behind these womens' actions can be put in a modern context.

Take, for example, Helen of Troy (played by Devon Berkshire), the gorgeous woman whose disappearance sparked the Trojan War. What pain and heartbreak did her beauty cause her, and what prices did she have to pay for it? Here, she's taunted and teased growing up, and the subject of her mother's unending attempts to mold her into a flawlessly beauteous image. Does Clytemnestra (Tella Storey) have the right to take another lover if her daughter Electra (Ashley Salmon-Wander) disapproves? Should Odysseus's wife Penelope (Jackie Kristel) put her life on hold until she has proof of his death, or is moving on okay?

All of these internal and external conflicts, mirroring concerns both timely and timeless, are handled with a light, often humorous, touch in both writing and performance, and creativity frequently abounds. One example: Two women run a running commentary of Helen while she's on a date, while her mother instructs in proper ladylike manners from Helen's memory. At another point, the women illustrate, in dance, a sex how-to book.

There's a consistently good balance between emotional and plot concerns, and though there's a page-long description of how the womens' actions intertwined during the Trojan War, you're unlikely to need it; the exposition is generally kept simple, the characters well defined, and the issues close to home. At any given moment, there's never much question of which woman is being studied or why. All the performers are fine, though Salmon-Wander and Berkshire, with the more colorful roles, do come off the best.

Nothing of Origins only doffs its bright, contemporary sheen when it resorts to mask play or abstract choreography, apparently to tie the show to the Greek theatrical tradition it's saluting. These elements do add additional color and visual variety, but little else, as the performers, Roemer, and Marks have shaped the show in such a way that it has plenty of movement and personality of its own.

Set designer James Hunting has made the primary feature of the set a revolving door that Marks uses frequently to help keep the show fast paced and fluid, and Aaron J. Mason's lights also help keep the energy up. Not that anyone involved really needs more than they already have. Physical, emotional, or creative, plenty of all of it is on display being channeled into the satisfying, entertaining Nothing of Origins.

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Studio 42 and One Year Lease
Nothing of Origins
Through May 18
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Schedule and Tickets: 212.352.3101