Polaroid Stories is a Brutal, Compelling and Touching Tale

Maxwell Bloch plays D, a drug dealer whose character mirrors Dionysus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. (Photo by Rowan Copley)
Maxwell Bloch plays D, a drug dealer whose character mirrors Dionysus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. (Photo by Rowan Copley)

As the sound of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blasts in my ears in the Bruce Davis Theater, the darkness and neon lights begin to brighten and reveal a stage filled with metal fences, a dirty old couch and tons of graffiti. Fourteen actors walk across stage sporadically, all with intense glares and clad in crazy clothes. One by one, I see blue hair, combat boots, an unshaven face, a Mohawk, a glitter tube top, a schoolgirl outfit and an Asian-inspired men’s jacket all float from corner to corner of the theater. All of a sudden, the lights go out and a beautiful girl in a white dress begins to sing a simple tune. After all of this commotion and confusion, I think to myself, “These kids are pretty badass, but what are they on?”

Based on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, “Polaroid Stories” is Naomi Iizuka’s modern take on Greek mythology through the lives of young people living in a city. These people live in the streets and tell their stories (whether they be true or false) to anyone who will listen.

Each character seems to be stuck in a vicious cycle between dissatisfaction with their lives and the escape from it. This dichotomy is a huge source of frustration for most of the characters, making the overall tone of the play powerful and compelling. I could see that each actor had put 100% of their hearts into every moment of emotionally charged project.

One of the most passionate conflicts of this play is that between the troubled Eurydice (played by Catherine Meringolo) and the lovesick Orpheus (played by John Wagner). Eurydice, who wants nothing more than to run away from the city and “see some fireworks”, often uses drugs to mentally escape form the world she cannot leave and make herself “drunk on the river of forgetfulness.” Her lover, Orpheus, wishes for her “passion-fruit flavored” thoughts and is painfully in love with her. After she runs away, Orpheus tells everyone the story of his love with guitar in hand. Their love story ends in a heart-wrenching, brilliantly performed scene.

As the only source of hope and sanity in this play, Philomel (played by Suzanna A. Sample) occasionally wanders around the set to sing- often to Orpheus. Her sweet voice echoes through the room as the characters try to make sense of her and possibly listen to her. I personally felt a possibility for change, for a release of the suffering victims from their dreadful lives.

However, this optimism was crushed during a well-choreographed and somewhat disturbing scene in the second half. Philomel’s reaction to this event – kneeling alone under the light with an expressionless, broken look on her face – tugged at my heart strings for the rest of the night.

Of the many well-written lines of this play, one which continues to enter my thoughts was an observation made by the sassy Persephone (played by Rachel Reckling). In a fit of annoyance and frustration, she exclaims, “Why does the girl always have to be made the fool?”

This century-old yet seemingly fresh question was further displayed by Skinhead Girl (played by Emily Atkins), who in a poetically delivered monologue talks about her past relationships with men through the story of a “princess.” Each man in her life puts up a fence to her, one by one, eventually leaving her in a cage where she feels alone and frightened. The final escape of her shadow into the  light is that of a remarkable and powerful figure that impresses the audience.

Skinhead Girl’s current boyfriend, Skinhead Boy (played by Adam Curtis), is the utter encapsulation of the dissatisfaction of all the characters in this play. In the most striking and emotional scene of the play, D (played by Maxwell Bloch) creepily refuses to give Skinhead Boy any drugs unless he receives a certain “reimbursement” of his own. After threatening him with a gun and harsh words, D ruthlessly beats Skinhead Boy. As Skinhead Boy’s bloody mouth and shirt are raised against the fence, the whole room grows dark except for the light shining on his face. The enchanting sounds of Sigur Ros begin to play and Skinhead Boy gives a truly touching and unforgettable account of his childhood days in Oregon.

Overall, “Polaroid Stories” was quite the experience. In between the cocaine snorting, crazy dancing and random screams, there was so much rich and raw emotion conveyed by all of the actors. And despite an accident that injured Briana Manente and called for Judy Sellner to learn the role of G in two days, the cast was incredibly concentrated and powerful.

Oh, and if you’re looking to analyze every aspect of the play, don’t bother. Alex Vaughan (who plays an incredible Narcissus), suggests that “Trying to think about it too much makes you lose the point…The show should speak for itself.”

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