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“Polaroid Stories” Blends Classical Mythology with Struggles of Homeless Youths

While there are many adaptations of classical Greek mythology set in modern day, Naomi Iizuka’s “Polaroid Stories” offers a powerful insight on homeless youth through the stories of well-known mythical characters. Put on by the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Performing Arts Department, director Carrie Ann Quinn’s interpretation weaves Iizuka’s play with modern dress and music, coinciding with Iizuka’s efforts to appeal to a younger audience.

Written in 1997, “Polaroid Stories” is one of several plays that Iizuka has written. Inspired by Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” the play blends classic mythology with the lives of homeless youth trying to survive in an abandoned construction site at the fringes of the big city. The play was written using direct interview accounts from homeless youths.

As the characters struggle with drug addiction, betrayal, sex for survival, loneliness, and death, their stories allude to those of mythical gods and mortals. Each scene reflects the monotony and inescapability of survival for homeless youth.

Featuring ten main characters and their various stories, a play like “Polaroid Stories” risks feeling overcrowded and hard to follow. However, the scenes blend from one to the next, moving the various plots along in a way that does not feel slow but does not rush the audience’s attentions, either.

The very opening of the play jumps right in: Hector Toledo’s D (Dionysus) addresses the audience: “This is how it begins, this is where.” From there comes the intense, yet believable, performances of Matrid Neli as SKINHEADboy and Jacques Matellus as Orpheus, contrasted nicely with the comedic flare of Christian Ruiz’s Narcissus and Megan Jepsen’s SKINHEADgirl. In heartrending interludes of soft song and quiet emotion, Anastasya Putri’s Philomel brings the mythical performances back to earth.

With more subtle—yet still powerful—performances by Caroline Clancy as Eurydice, Sabina Lindsey as Persephone, Cassidy Bane as Echo, and Kervin Germain as G (a.k.a. Zeus and Hades), the variety of acting styles does well to meld the mythical undertones with the harsh reality of life for the characters on the streets.

Though there seemed to be a disconnect between the actors, and therefore their characters, this did not take away from the storytelling. This disconnect served to emphasize the true loneliness of each character. While they interacted, spoke, and even touched each other, the characters at their core were very much alone in the environment they shared.

Surrounded by empty beer cans, drugs strewn across the floor, garbage, and various abandoned crates and trash, the center of the stage featured a single mattress, covered with dingy blankets, next to a city manhole cover. Surrounding this area was a three-story scaffolding, evidence of the construction site where “home” used to be.

Providing great atmosphere, the walls behind and next to the stage were heavily graffitied with nicknames like “nothing,” “speedracer,” and “disappear,” as well as old posters and advertisements for parties, clubs, and other city locations.

Throughout the play, the characters roamed the small corner of their abode, climbing around on the scaffolding, jumping on the bed, and interacting frequently with various props such as an old shopping cart.

A jarring addition to the setting was the choice of up-to-date music; with artists like Lana Del Rey, Rihanna, and X Ambassadors, the audience experienced a recognition and connection through the music.

While this was meant to engage the audience and bring a modern connection to the play, it instead ruined the quality and took away from the seriousness of the subject matter. “Polaroid Stories” is a modern take on Greek mythologies, but “modern” only applied in 1997 at the writing of the play. Nearly twenty years later, today’s music seemed removed from the setting.

Despite this auditory flaw, the rest of the production went smoothly. The lighting was eerie and dark, fitting of the environment and tone of the play. At pivotal moments, there were brief flashes of bright light, and impending audiences should be aware of the brief use of strobe effects.
Overall, Quinn’s production of Naomi Iizuka’s “Polaroid Stories” portrayed the struggles and hardships for homeless youth in the city in a respectful and poignant way, with comedic relief at the most appropriate times. Artful and visually appealing, the UMass Boston Performing Arts Department’s rendition features strong acting, a well-constructed set, and engaging performance.