“Polaroid Stories” Messily Blends Myth and Teen Anguish

Kiki Samko, Luke Murtha, Michael Underhill, Elizabeth Battey, and Michael Caminiti, photo credit: Heart & Dagger Productions

Polaroid Stories by Naomi Iizuka, Heart & Dagger Productions, Boston Actors’ Theatre, and Happy Medium Theatre**,  Black Box Theatre at Boston Center for the Arts, 6/29/12-7/14/12, http://www.heartanddagger.org/.

**THIS REVIEW WAS SCHEDULED PRIOR TO THE CHANGES IN OUR REVIEWING POLICY AND WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE THAT HAPPY MEDIUM THEATRE COMPANY WAS DIRECTLY INVOLVED

Reviewed by Gillian Daniels

(Boston, MA) With mixed success, Polaroid Stories attempts an abstract production that marries mythology and youth drug culture.  It’s a uneasy union.  The actors, at least, mine the material to the best of their abilities.

I can’t guarantee that those familiar with mythology–the descent of Eurydice (Melissa DeJesus) into the Underworld, for example, as an allegory for a runaway–will find the approach to the material novel.  Greek mythology has been revisited in art and story for a very long time and much of its original power has been mined away.  Naomi Iizuka’s play borrows from Ovid’s Metamorphoses whole cloth and the playwright’s individual touch feels slight.  Comparing and contrasting stories about transformation with teenagers in a state of flux provides neat images, at least.

Some of the ideas are intriguing, specifically the troubled family history of D or Hades, played by Mikey DiLoreto.  DiLoreto chews scenerey but shows passion in his performance as a self-proclaimed death god.  He cheerfully dispenses drugs one minute and mourns the remnants of his broken home the next.

Many of the characters are primarily defined by the substances they abuse and the homes from which they’ve escaped.  The writing, when it comes to their addictions and woes, is not particularly subtle.  Like the Greek gods, nymphs, and heroes they immitate, the teenage characters are often archetypal in their personalities.  Given flat dialogue, it can be difficult to distinguish some characters as individuals.

The lack of subtlety certainly helps hammer home the world the show is trying to depict, at least.  Heart and Dagger Productions’ Polaroid Stories does a good job of re-creating the feeling of homelessness and loss.  The sparse stage reflects this, with its broken toilet, bathroom mirror with no mirror in it, and black floors eventually covered with sidewalk chalk.  It’s a continual house party with no real rules or end.

Polaroid Stories is at its best when it gets to the meat of its characters.  One story thread that stands out well is that of Narcissus (Michael Underhill), a handsome man falling into prostitution, and Echo (Elizabeth Battey), a sheltered, lonely girl, grounded where the rest of the ensemble is manic.  Like the Echo of mythology, Battey’s character is completely in Underhill’s thrall.  She repeats the last few words of everything her crush has to say and he, self-obsessed, is pleased to have a willing audience.  Their relationship shifts and evolves throughout the play.  Underhill is hilarious and magnetic in his role and Battey plays Echo with strength and aching sincerity.  I could easily see an entire play structured around the both of them not just as characters but actors.

Polaroid Stories, however, like it says in the name, is a work more concerned with pictures and broad strokes.  As an abstract piece, it’s successful in depicting the feeling of the world these character inhabit, the confusion of their unsupervised teen years.

Other elements included in the show overreach.  Danielle Leeber Lucas is a shattered, waifish Philo, wandering through the splintered plot. She begins the play by singing part of The Beatles’ “Blackbird.”  It’s a nice image on its own, and the actress looks and acts the part, but in the context of the play, the presence of her character is heavyhanded.

The non-linear story, itself, feels more interested in image than meaning.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing in theatre, that’s just the sort of show Polaroid Stories wants to be, but it feels muddled when dealing with well visited topics like addiction and abuse.  Then it tries to filter those stories through Greek myth.  The material has dark, hypnotic moments but, by the end, doesn’t coalesce into anything solid or new.

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