POLAROID STORIES @ Allens Lane—Waiting for Something to Develop

by Ellen Wilson Dilks

The second offering in Allens Lane Arts Center’s current season is Naomi Iizuka’s 1997 play POLAROID STORIES. Directed by Sarah Mittledorf, the piece is on the Mt. Airy company’s stage from November 22nd to December 7th.

Iizuka was born in Tokyo to an American-Latina mother and a Japanese father; she spent her formative years in Japan, Indonesia and, eventually, Washington, D.C. She obtained her B.A. from Yale and her M.F.A. from UC San Diego, where she recently took over as head of the M.F.A Playwrighting Program. Her works have been produced Actors Theatre of Louisville; Berkeley Repertory Theatre and other regional theatres around the country. The playwright interviewed several street kids over a number of months and then ran their stories through the filter of Ovid’s Metamorphoses to create POLAROID STORIES, putting more emphasis on the women (Eurydice, Persephone, etc.).

Rachel O'Hanlon-Rodriguez and Branden Lipford in Allens Lane Theater's POLAROID STORIES.

Rachel O’Hanlon-Rodriguez and Branden Lipford in Allens Lane Theater’s POLAROID STORIES.

The audience is greeted by a sparse stage upon entering Allens Lane’s second floor theatre. David Ward’s set design consists of a series of varying sized pieces of cardboard boxes laid out in a random tiled pattern across the back wall of the stage, with occasional bits of graffiti on them and other parts of the stage. There is a section of chain-link fence at stage right and a random pile of junk at stage left. A “river” of discarded clothing, etc. trails from downstage center to upstage right. It nicely evokes the world of street people. Mike Lucek has created a nice lighting design, as well as some terrific projections; complimenting this is Zachary Sellet’s soundscape (an intriguing mix of contemporary and classical music blended with street sounds.)

Director Sarah Mitteldorf has assembled a cast and crew of young talented people to perform the piece. A movement based artist, she and her troupe have created some interesting interludes that I don’t think were part of the original script. Davon Clark, Shauntia Coley, Kelly De Vose Nina Giacobbe, Asaki Kurama, Brandan Lipford, Nathan Logue, Rachel O’Hanlon Rodriguez, Ellie Marissa Ruttenberg and James Patefield bring tremendous passion to the stage and all work well off of each other, but I’m not sure if the play is worth their efforts. The narrative is all over the place and takes a very long time to get nowhere.

Clearly attempting to portray the world of addicts, homeless kids, prostitutes and drug dealers, the language is exceedingly raw. There are so many “F” words I got numb after awhile. For me, the parallels to Ovid got lost in the continual onslaught of profanity. There is no real plot, just a disjointed parade of encounters and monologues; at no point does anyone have any real epiphany, nor is there any clear redemption. If the point was to shed light on the plight of the homeless in general—and runaway youth in particular—Iizuka’s script fails miserably in my opinion.

I may be way off the mark—this was my visceral reaction to what I watched on opening night. By all means check POLAROID STORIES out for yourselves. And let me know your thoughts…

by Naomi Iizuka
Directed by Sarah Mittledorf
November 22—December 7, 2013
Allen’s Lane Center for the Arts
Allen’s Lane & McCallum Streets
Philadelphia, Pa 19119
For tickets call 215-248-0546


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