Written by: Naomi Iizuka
Directed by: Stephanie Daventry French*
Theatrical Review by: Paul Adam Smeltz
The East Stroudsburg University (ESU)* Department of Theatre along with the Student Theatrical Group Stage II* presented their production of “Polaroid Stories” written by Naomi Iizuka. The play explores the plight of the homeless in our society especially those who are among the young. Their stories are presented through a series of clever and poignant retellings of Greek Mythology in which the characters of the play are listed as minor gods and goddesses who find the underworld (the realm of the dead) to be their virtual home. This view of the homeless as divine beings encourages us to wonder if the fact we presently have a house to live in makes us major gods and goddesses if we do nothing to help relieve their condition.
The first thing capturing the attention of the audience is how they are to enter the theatre. Instead of entering from the main doors which are on the upper level of The Fine and Performing Arts Center, they are asked to go downstairs and enter from the dressing room area. This gave each person the impression of ascending from the underworld and thus preparing them for what they were about to experience.
The second thing capturing our attention was how the stage was set up. The audience was seated upon the stage itself which made them a part of the play. This might have been done to encourage us to identify more closely to the characters and issues relating to the homelessness they’re experiencing. Regardless of the thinking behind the setting, it was effective as this reviewer found himself looking at the audience as much as those performing since their reaction to the scenes became an intricate part of them exposing some inner meanings to them.
From the very first moments of the production itself, one can hear oneself say, “Damn, this is a good play.” The acting was superb, the blocking was exciting, and the stories were compelling. The direction of Stephanie Daventry French* provided the framework in which the audience can relate to every emotion and action of the characters in spite of their situation and divine status. The audience can easily identify with everything going on to the point it becomes a bit uncomfortable to see so much of oneself being presented for all the world to see.
The play begins with a prologue given by D (Dionysus - as portrayed by Ryan Castro) and is reminiscent of one found in classical Greek Theatre setting the tone and mood of the entire production. It is followed by one of the many themes of the play of Eurydice (as portrayed by Samantha Crawn*) leaving an abusive mate and later meet Orpheus (as portrayed by Joseph Bednarchik and also portrayed Tereus) who becomes the love of her life. However, it is soon revealed she has left behind follows her as Orpheus’ love for her becomes obsessive and abusive leaving us to wonder if Eurydice created what was familiar to her previous existence so she can feel at home or is the true nature of Orpheus finally revealed.
Another compelling theme of the play centers around the plight of Narcissus (as portrayed by Brian Foley*) as he talks to his mirror while accompanied by Echo (as portrayed by Keighty Simmons) who serves as his subconscious helping him to see the truth behind the lies he tells himself. Echo’s words begins as mere verbal repetitions of what Narcissus tells himself in vain soon becomes revelations he doesn’t want to see. Instead of looking at them and learning how he can improved his imperfect state, he attacks the true works of his Echo and therefore defeats himself.
However, what made these scenes particularly interesting for this reviewer was, from my vantage point, the mirror Narcissus looked into was physically warped and showed a deformed reflection of the character. This added a depth to the scenes and it seemed not every member of the audience could see this distortion from their point of view. It encouraged me to wonder what aspects of other scene am I unable to perceive while dwelling in my point of view. It also encouraged me to ask myself what am I not seeing in my life while being attached to my particular points of views. Are the homeless and those less fortunate than I among the things I cannot (or will not) see? Am I looking into a mirror showing a poor reflection of who I am as I cling to my own vanity?
The stories centering upon Eurydice and Narcissus are just two of the themes of this play. There are many more and they all act as streams flowing into one concentrated pool. This pool is that found in the harsh realities suffered by the homeless in our society. The abuse, abandonment, drug addiction, and fear they encounter every single moment is graphically displayed throughout the play. It brings, what to many, a distant reality into the realm of the here and now and instills in each audience member a desire to do something about this sense of hopelessness.
Yet, the production does offer hope. The play’s program presents a list of recourses those who find themselves homeless can rely upon along with ways an audience member can support the site’s endeavors. The play also has a Post Show Discussion with Jessica Ryan who is an Advocate for the homeless and former homeless youth on Friday December 4th. There are also displays depicting those facing homelessness with information about the individuals and how to be a help to them.
The cast consisted of many wonderful actors who portrayed their roles with excellence. Many were new to the ESU* Stage and it is with great anticipation to see them in future productions. They are Maria Picon as Persephone and Semele, Merrill McGuinness* as Philomel who also served as the production‘s scenic artist, Janel Martinez as Skin Head Girl, Neon Girl, and Ariadne, Ryan Drozd as Skin Head Boy, Oklahoma Boy, Speed Racer, Theseus, Pentheus, Prometheus, and The Lydian Sailor, and Christopher Centrella* as G (Zeus and Hades) and also served as the production‘s Fight Director. The Ravers seen throughout the play and served as a modern Greek Chorus without words were Doug Brehony (Lead Raver) and served the production as its Sound Engineer, Alexandria Bellivan, Dan Miller, Phillip Domschke, Stephanie Carifi who also served as the production‘s Assistant Costume Designer, Laura Wall, Nitah Otieno, Gabryal Rabinowitz, Stephan Regman, and (appearing Thursday night only) Jessica Pachuta who also served as the production‘s Assistant Costume Designer.
The East Stroudsburg University (ESU)* Department of Theatre and Stage II production of “Polaroid Stories” written by Naomi Iizuka was Directed by Stephanie Daventry French* as assisted by Erin Lanza and Stage Managed by Robert McIntyre who also served as the production’s Electrician, Master Carpenter, and Scenic Artists. The Assistant Stage Managers were Michelle Tuite and Laura Sollazzo who also served as the production‘s Scenic Artists. The Production’s Costume and Set Designer was Yoshinori Tanokura and its scenic artist. The Assistant Scenic Designer was Laura Fiore who also served as the production’s Hair and Makeup Designer/Artist, and scenic artist. The Lighting Designer was Pierre Clavel as assisted by Scott Ross whos also served as the production’s Master Electrician. The Sound Designer was Farai Wonderful Bere who was consulted by John Scognamiglio. The Technical Director was Ken Larson. Carpenters Meg Dowling who also served as the production’s Electrician and Luke Swierczek who also served as the production’s Sound Board Operator. The Property Master was Rachel Mack as assisted by Melissa Sherry with the Set/Props Crew consisting of Katayan Ameri who also served as the production’s scenic artist and Katie Dembski. The Light Board Operator was Kendrick Williams, the House manager was Amanda Kalinowski, the Box Office Manager was Alex Writh, and the Program Cover Design was by Gregory Pammer who also created The Poster Designs along with Erin Raought.
This production of “Polaroid Stories” will continue its run at The East Stroudsburg University (ESU)* in East Stroudsburg, PA at The University’s Fine and Performing Arts Center in it’s Smith-McFarland Theatre until December 6th and is recommended for those who wish to explore beyond all they can see from their singular vantage point and discover how coming to the aide of the minor gods and goddesses we encounter can enhance their own divinity. Please contact The East Stroudsburg University (ESU)* Theatre Department at 570-422-3483 for more information and to reserve your ticket.
(*) denotes members of The Forwardian Arts Society in good standing and are considered Our Good Friends.