Polaroid Stories, an avant-garde collision between Ovid's Metamorphoses and a sociological horror story about homeless youth, made me feel like a coroner at the scene of a car accident, fumbling vainly to put the various bloody bits and pieces together into something resembling a body. Sorting through playwright Naomi Iizuka's multitude of short scenes—most of which have only a transitory relationship to the themes of poverty or mythology—I ended up with only an approximation of a body. There are so many missing parts that the whole thing is amorphous and incomplete.
Why? Possibly because there's no coherent plot, unless you count the urbanized Eurydice escaping an abusive relationship and descending into hellish squalor. Maybe because the prosaic dialogue and redundant situations—characters declaring themselves "gods" over and over as they huff spray paint for two hours—become mind-numbing. Or it could be a symptom of the great failing of the avant-garde, which dismisses sentiment and the over-glorification of intellect. Disengagement is fine if you live in your head. Not so fine if you actually give a shit about other people.
It's reasonable to assume that the intention of any art form is to generate empathy from an audience. We should feel these stories, no matter how ugly or debauched. Polaroid Stories may give us some moments of tenderness to balance the bleak artiness of the material, and director Amanda McRaven's attractive staging provides plenty of pretty pictures (nobody does stage imagery as immaculately as she does), but there's absolutely no emotional engagement.
Too often I found myself removed from the play and roiling around in my head, puzzling over what the hell the point was. Or despairing because the point was so shallow. Or wondering why an editor didn't cut this bloated monstrosity in half. Or wondering why nobody told the playwright that blending these two stories did neither justice. I respect any writer who intentionally leaves things open-ended, so that I have to do some of the work, but sometimes it's just a mask for laziness or the inability to tell a clear story.
The performances by McRaven's talented ensemble are sublime, and they manage to create some poetry from the pretentious script. Technical highlights are the filth-encrusted trash and metal girder scenic design by Jeanine Nicholas, the evocative inner-city sound design by Corinne Carrillo and the colorful chiaroscuro lighting by Matthew Stovall. Yet one wonders why they bothered.
Iizuka certainly is no idiot, but her "no duh" social consciousness and oblique intentions make the dancing and drugging and substantial talent on display here a sound and fury signifying nothing.
POLAROID STORIES, AT THE UC IRVINE STUDIO THEATRE, 300 ARTS, IRVINE, (949) 824-2787. THURS.-FRI., MAR. 8-9, 8 P.M.; SAT., 2 & 8 P.M. $8-$10.
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